In what is set to bring much relief to thousands of South Africans stranded abroad due to Covid-19 lockdowns, International Relations and Co-operation Minister Naledi Pandor yesterday said her department had, since March, facilitated the repatriation of at least 5,239 people.
While hundreds have already returned by land through the country’s borders, Pandor said more flights ferrying people repatriated from overseas were expected to land at OR Tambo International Airport within days.
Stressing that government would not foot the bill of individuals wishing to return abroad, Pandor told a virtual media briefing that those to be flown home included South Africans from the United States, Russia, Vietnam, India, Qatar and the United Kingdom – among other countries.
Some recently repatriated locals, who included expatriates, have requested government to assist with flights back abroad, citing the reopening of economies of some Western countries and a wish to return to work.
“We implemented this process to assist our nationals who were in distress, including those stranded at airports who were asked to evacuate their places of residence as many countries were implementing lockdowns.
“We began to receive requests from South Africans who either lost their jobs due to companies and schools being affected by the lockdowns, or simply ran out of money to continue to sustain themselves abroad.
“While government is facilitating the return of our nationals, should they wish to return abroad after the lockdown is lifted, the government will bear no cost,” explained Pandor.
Among many looking forward to return home is a group of 29 South African musicians who have for months been trapped in Turkey. Turkey cancelled international flights in late March, making it impossible for foreign citizens to leave the country.
Pandor has described the repatriation drive as “not easy, given the various restrictions implemented by countries across the world”.
“The process involved a lot of negotiations with multiple stakeholders, which explains why we couldn’t repatriate some as speedily as we wished,” she said. “The pandemic has disrupted nations, corporations and our daily lives.”
Urging South Africans abroad seeking repatriation to contact the country’s foreign-based missions, Pandor paid tribute to government officials and countries who played a key role in the repatriation process.