4 June, 2020 , SA People
Pleas for DIRCO to help South Africans stranded abroad, or stuck in SA with jobs abroad, have increased as many run out of money, medicine and hope. The DA today issued a call for Dirco to liaise better with embassies in helping get citizens home; and AfriForum this morning issued urgent court papers in an effort to find solutions to the many problems facing South African citizens needing repatriation, including the fact that they are still required to spend a minimum of 14 days in quarantine in a state facility, while most have the ability and would prefer to isolate themselves.
The organisation says those in quarantine have no formal channel through which to address issues quickly and effectively.
“Slow repatriation processes, poor communication and late testing for the virus cause them additional unnecessary distress,” says AfriForum.
While over 5,000 South Africans HAVE been successfully repatriated since Lockdown began, there are at least 3,000 more (according to DIRCO’s Director-General) who are desperate to get home – running out of money, medicine and hope. There are also thousands more who are Locked in South Africa, as desperate to leave and return to their normal country of residence and their jobs.
SAPeople has been inundated with messages that range from heartbreaking (“please help, my mother is dying”) to frustrated and desperate (“we have tried to catch four planes from OR Tambo now”). They all come from South Africans in and out of SA who are being thwarted in their attempts to return home or return to work abroad… all stumbling at the same hurdle, they say – the SA government… specifically, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) and Home Affairs.
While we know that the guys in the DIRCO 24-hour centre have been working around the clock (and have been extremely helpful each time we’ve called on behalf of someone desperate), and that Dirco has helped facilitate the repatriation of thousands of South Africans back to SA… there unfortunately seems to have been some flaws and hold-ups, mixed messages, unnecessary red tape and a lack of communication between Dirco, border control staff and airlines.
It’s not an ordinary situation and everybody is learning as they go along. But sometimes there appears to be no common sense, compassion or a simple check of facts. Passengers that are told by Dirco that they can fly, arrive at the airport to be turned away. A father and his 12-year-old are refused entry onto a plane with the rest of their family because they are accused of having recently visited a high-risk Covid area (they hadn’t travelled in over a year, but due to some ineptitude somewhere, their names were added to a no-go list).
For many South Africans their spirits are broken. This morning an exasperated Stephen Geldenhuys, who is an admin of the FB group South African Offshore Workers Unite (join here), said: “I have noticed that there has been a lot of talk from government but no proper structure in place or any sort of proper plan to get Oil and Gas contractors back to work… it seems like their left hand is not aware of what the right hand is doing which is making it very difficult to get back to work.
“Some contractors have made it to JHB via vehicle to fly out on a chartered flight, just to arrive and find out they not able to fly. South African Government is making it virtually impossible for us to earn a living, they are the prime reason why we find ourselves unemployed with the possibility of losing everything including our ability to provide for our families. All this while they earn full salaries. It’s a shame and I’m embarrassed to call myself South African, while my co-workers from other countries are able to travel from Europe to their place of employment with no problem.”
The South African oil and gas workers have set up a petition on Change.org here.
DA Calls for DIRCO to work with Embassies to bring stranded South Africans home
Today, the DA’s Shadow Minister of International Relations and Coperation, Darren Bergman, who has himself spearheaded efforts – including multiple WhatsApp groups around the world – to get South Africans where they need to be, issued a statement calling on DIRCO to work with embassies to bring stranded South Africans home, particularly from Namibia and Mozambique where they have been stranded for weeks.
Bergman said the DA is putting increased pressure on DIRCO to work with its embassies where staff “seem to have lost any power to instruct our border gates to allow safe passage for these citizens”.
He said there’s still “great uncertainty” as to why these South Africans who are stuck in the country’s neighbouring countries have not been able to come home.
Shortage of quarantine facilities?
“Speculation is rife that it may be due to a shortage of quarantine facilities or inefficiencies at Home Affairs,” says Bergman.
“The DA calls on DIRCO to immediately engage with embassies and the Departments of Health, Home Affairs and Public Works to ensure and facilitate the safe passage of those South Africans who need to return home. We urge them to find safe and immediate solutions around these issues even if it means self-quarantine or quarantine sites further into the country.
“What cannot happen is that school children, required to return in the foundation and essential years are denied their rights to an education and that people left vulnerable due to a shortage of funds or medicines are locked out of their country due to a lack of action by DIRCO.”
According to the DIRCO Director-General there are still over 3,000 South Africans needing to return to SA. Just in the past 24 hours SAPeople has received desperate messages from people in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, New Zealand, Zimbabwe and other parts of the world – many complaining that Dirco is not answering their calls. Emails to embassies are also being ignored, some say.
Louise Esterhuizen says: “DIRCO is of NO help. They do not answer their phones. I even called the DIRCO Media Liaison Officer on his cellphone. He knows nothing and cannot even direct me to someone that can help. My husband left Oman two days ago. He is now stuck in Frankfurt because of his connecting flight being cancelled twice now. He has done all the DIRCO paperwork.”
Of those stranded closer by in Mozambique and Namibia, Bergman says “when we have low hanging fruits just within our reach we seem reluctant to stretch out to apply ourselves.
“The DA call for an immediate solution that should not be delayed any further than this weekend.”
According to Sue-Ann de Wet, who manages AfriForum’s contact with South Africans abroad, AfriForum was obliged this morning to urgently seek legal assistance for a repatriated South African in need of COVID-unrelated medical assistance, as the quarantine facility where he is at present, had not responded to his requests.
“These problems are constantly emerging and could be prevented if people, upon their arrival in the country, had the choice to isolate themselves for 14 days,” she says.
Another issue that is addressed in the papers is the new regulation that even allows for people to be compelled to pay for their quarantine.
“It is absurd that repatriated citizens are forced into quarantine facilities against their will and on top of this, have to pay for it. Many people already experience financial distress after waiting for repatriation opportunities for weeks, and they will certainly not be able to pay expenses for an unnecessary service, while secure self-isolation options are available at their own homes,” adds Bailey.
The Ministers of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, DIRCO and Health; as well as the Director General of Health are included as respondents in the case.