- Americans stranded abroad expressed frustration that while other countries promptly evacuated their citizens, they were left with little guidance from the State Department.
- The US State Department has evacuated more than 30,000 Americans since the early days of the coronavirus outbreak in January, but more than 24,000 Americans are still stuck abroad.
- Germany has brought home about 42,000 nationals in the past two weeks alone.
- Two US citizens Insider spoke to who were frustrated with the US government’s response finally secured flights home earlier this week.
Peter Barbot was traveling in India for yoga training when the country announced it would be grounding commercial flights to curb the spread of the coronavirus on March 22.
While the 29-year-old San Diego native struggled to even get in contact with the US embassy, friends from other countries were contacted by their governments and quickly flown back home.
“The embassy has provided no information and no resources for US citizens,” Barbot told Insider, adding that the State Department only gave him vague replies that it was working on a solution. “I’ve been staying here at my hostel with citizens of Germany and the Netherlands – their countries have set up repatriation programs and have been flown home.”
International border closures and travel restrictions over coronavirus fears have left thousands of travelers stranded in foreign countries across the world. Americans stuck in Peru and India told Insider that the State Department has left them in limbo while many of their foreign friends have already made it home.
Although the State Department told Insider it was “rising to meet the historic challenge posed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the American agency has been far outpaced by other countries in its repatriation efforts.
The agency has helped more than 30,000 Americans stuck in 60 countries get home on 375 flights, officials said Wednesday, according to NBC News. But more than 24,000 Americans are still stuck abroad.
By contrast, Germany brought home about 42,000 of its citizens from 60 countries on 160 charter flights over the past two weeks alone, the Guardian reported on Tuesday.
Germany has led in repatriation efforts, evacuating about 187,000 German nationals from foreign countries in total.
Danke allen, die mithelfen, unsere gestrandeten Urlauberinnen und Urlauber zurückzuholen. Auch wenn der Flugverkehr weitgehend zum Erliegen kommt: Wir kämpfen weiter für jeden einzelnen Flug, den wir möglich machen können! #COVIDー19 pic.twitter.com/ghnYrxrRcK
“The State has never before undertaken an evacuation effort of such geographic breadth, scale, and complexity in its more than 230-year history,” a State Department spokesperson told Insider.
Insider talked to four Americans stranded across the world from India to Peru. They expressed frustration that while other countries were evacuating their citizens, Americans were left behind with little guidance from the State Department.
US travelers stuck in Peru and India previously told Insider the US embassies have not been forthcoming, and the little information they have received was vague, outdated, or even wrong.
Curry, a Florida native, was vacationing in Peru with his entire family when the country abruptly shut its borders on March 16.
Both Curry and Barbot said they immediately called the US embassy but found it difficult to get in contact with State Department personnel. Curry said the US Embassy was “closed as far as I can tell. Nobody’s really answering at all.” Barbot was told to call the embassy back because it was “closed for the weekend.”
Despite having signed up for the US’s STEP program – a service the State Department offers to keep Americans informed of travel advisories when they’re in other countries – Curry and Barbot said they received little information on how to get home other than vague statements that the State Department was working on a solution.
“Whether its updates on the website, or on the phone – there’s zero communication,” Barbot told Insider. “We’re hearing about all of these updates from other sources: Twitter, Facebook, the Indian government – everywhere but the US Embassy.”
Left to their own devices, Americans resorted to organizing on their own via WhatsApp and Facebook. Barbot started a Facebook page called “Americans Stuck in India” for US citizens to share what little information they had, taking point from similar Facebook pages for Americans stranded in Ecuador and Peru.
Messages on these pages paint a picture of the confusion and fear felt by Americans stranded abroad who are desperate to get home to their loved ones.
“It would go along way to let us know that something is happening and we’re not forgotten,” Barbot told Insider. “I am trying to get home and I’d like to reach my family as this pandemic looms.”
Germans say their foreign ministry was ‘responsive’ and ‘helpful’
On the same day that thousands of Americans were trapped in Peru, travelers in Costa Rica were also barred from leaving due to similar travel restrictions.
A German citizen named Christine Kiefer was on the first leg of a three-month-long trip with her boyfriend in Costa Rica when the couple realized they would need to find their way home.
Kiefer, who was enrolled in “Elefand” – the German equivalent to STEP – told Insider she received a mass email from Germany’s foreign ministry within a day after the Costa Rican government announced its new travel restrictions.
The 24-year-old university student said she received the same email as other German citizens stranded in the country, and it contained detailed information about when and how to get flights home.
“We just got three alert emails with no reply, but they were really informative,” Kiefer told Insider.
Although Kiefer received no personalized correspondence via email from Germany’s foreign ministry, she said citizens could ask questions on their Facebook and Twitter accounts and get responses within an hour – a stark contrast to attempts many Americans made to get information from US embassies.
The German foreign ministry eventually contacted Kiefer and her boyfriend on March 25 about an evacuation flight. The couple flew out of Costa Rica on a flight chartered by German airline Lufthansa dedicated to repatriating to citizens. They were home by March 27.
“I’m really satisfied – I think for Costa Rica, the German Embassy they worked really, really hard, and they did a good job,” Kiefer told Insider.
Curry’s family and Barbot finally got flights back to the US
Kiefer’s high praise for the German government’s repatriation efforts were a far cry from Curry’s experience with the US federal government. He described the State Department’s evacuation response as “criminally incompetent.”
“The communication from them has been extremely limited and the information is often outdated if not just completely wrong,” Curry told Insider around March 24. “Without any context to make decisions, they’ve contributed to a lot of fear and anxiety.”
A spokesperson for the State Department told Insider: “The State Department has continued vigorously to prosecute its historic mission to bring Americans home from hard-to-reach areas and cities hardest-hit by the virus.”
Curry and his family were eventually put on a flight back home to Tampa, Florida, and arrived safely on March 29. Barbot was able to secure a flight back to the US for March 30. Even with a flight itinerary back home to California, the scuba diving instructor pledged to continue helping the Americans in India that were still left behind.
“To everyone still in India, I will still continue to help with what I can to make sure everyone gets home safe,” Barbot posted in the “Americans stuck in India” page.
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