At least 13,500 Americans abroad need help returning home, State Department says

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WASHINGTON – About 13,500 Americans overseas have turned to the State Department for help return to the United States as the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in border closures and the suspension of commercial flights, two senior officials said on Monday.

About 5,700 additional US citizens and legal residents have already been brought back on flights organized by the State Department, officials said.

Of Peru at Morocco at Japan, stranded Americans pleaded for help getting home the pandemic has spread. Over the next five days, the State Department will charter 16 flights around the world to bring home 1,600 more people, said one of the officials, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity in due to department protocols on media briefing.

About 10 million U.S. citizens live abroad, officials said. But officials have urged Americans with homes overseas to consider curling up, noting that travel assistance has been designed for tourists and temporary expats, such as students.

These Americans should try to return to the United States before all commercial flights are closed, the official said. There was still room on some of the flights this week for additional passengers, said the official, who urged Americans to check in with the department. travel registration system for information.

But many American travelers, including a group of medical students stranded in Peru, said they have yet to receive help from the United States government.

Still others said the State Department planned to cancel travelers’ passports if they did not pay for their return tickets – even if they had not been told the price of the chartered plane ticket.

“Repatriation flights are not free,” reads a notice that US citizens in Ghana said they received from the US embassy in Accra. “Your US passport will be canceled pending loan repayment terms. You will not be allowed to renew your passport until you establish a repayment plan with the Department of State. “

Tiffany Dillard, who was in Ghana for a brief visit on a trip abroad as an English teacher, has struggled to leave since the The United States advised the Americans last week to come home or stay put.

She said she feared her passport could be canceled. “It makes me nervous every time someone messes up my passport in any way,” Ms. Dillard, from Milwaukee, said in an interview Monday. She said she also plans to stay in Ghana.

A spokeswoman for the State Department in Washington did not have immediate comment when asked about the notice of cancellation of blocked U.S. passports.

Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Monday urged President Trump to “provide Americans abroad with the support they need” during what he called a “Unprecedented pandemic”.

“No American should ever have to fear being abandoned overseas by our government,” Menendez wrote in a letter to Mr. Trump.

Senior State Department officials have said that in some cases foreign governments have imposed restrictions to contain the virus that is preventing US flights from leaving.

One of the officials said this had been the case in Peru, where 15 students from Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina, who were training to become paramedics and paramedics, were trying to leave. .

The official said fewer flights could enter and leave Peru because the international airport in Lima, the capital, had been to close for the duration of the country’s quarantine. This meant that the flights had to go through military airports, which did not have the capacity to handle all the additional air traffic.

Over 100 Americans who were stranded aboard the cruise liner Silver Shadow in Recife, Brazil, for more than a week, returned to the United States early Monday, landing in Dallas. The Americans were the last group of 315 passengers from 18 countries to return from the stricken ship.

Earlier in the month, passengers were restricted to their rooms after a Canadian passenger fell ill and tested positive for the coronavirus. In recent days, most of the countries with citizens aboard the Silver Shadow have chartered the planes and brought them home.

In addition to State Department charter flights, the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security also return Americans to the United States on government planes, the official said.

On Sunday, Global Guardian, an international security company, evacuated 144 Americans stranded in Honduras. The company arranged a plane to fly to the island of Roatán after obtaining permission from the Honduran government.

“I can’t begin to express my gratitude to the entire Global Guardian team for bringing my husband and I home safely to our families and living here in Boston,” said Annie Perlick, nurse at Boston Children’s. Hospital, in a statement.

The US military said last week it had evacuated 89 Americans outside of Honduras.

Lara Jakes reported from Washington and Ashley Southall from New York. Eric Schmitt and Adam Goldman contributed reporting from Washington.

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