Speaking Notes by the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Dr Naledi Pandor, on Repatriations of South Africans stranded abroad, 21 May 2020
Following the declaration of the State of Disaster by President Cyril Ramaphosa, which saw South Africa implementing the national lockdown on 26 March 2020, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) has facilitated the repatriation of 5 239 South Africans stranded abroad (by air).Hundreds more have also returned through our land borders.
This means that more South Africans have now been repatriated than the initial 3637 who had requested repatriation.
We implemented this process to assist our nationals who were in distress, they included, those stranded at airports, students who were asked to evacuate their places of residence as many countries were implementing their lockdowns, the elderly and those who needed medical attention.
All those seeking help are persons who are ordinarily resident in South Africa.
With time, we began to receive requests from other categories of South Africans who either lost their jobs due to companies and schools being affected by the lockdowns and/or simply ran out of money to continue to sustain themselves abroad.
The process of repatriation is 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.
To properly coordinate this process, my department established a Command Centre, which operates 24 hours a day to help those who were unable to reach our missions abroad.
The repatriation of South Africans is a humanitarian mission that is coordinated by the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS) with the guidance of the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), chaired by the President.
South Africans abroad requiring repatriation have been encouraged to contact our embassies to enable the Department to assess the demand in each country.
Allow me to take this opportunity to thank officials at all our embassies, led by our esteemed ambassadors and High Commissioners, our team here at Head Office, led by the Director-General, for the excellent work they have been doing, spending sleepless nights negotiating for the movement of South Africans, securing permits and flight clearances that brought South Africans back home.
The pandemic has disrupted nations, corporations and our daily lives. The repatriation was carried through collaboration across several departments and were fortunate to have the trust of our citizens that we would assist. Several countries supported the repatriation efforts, as did interested organisations.
We thank each and every one.
On behalf of our government and people, I wish to extend our heartfelt gratitude to all governments and people of the world who have helped our citizens during their time of need, whilst abroad. These repatriations would not have been possible without the excellent cooperation we got from the international community.
In the coming days and weeks, we are going to continue bringing our nationals home. This will include from the United States of America, Russia, Vietnam, India, Qatar, the United Kingdom, etc.
We have a weekly newsletter that has a detailed breakdown of the number of arrivals per country and region. It is available on our website.
The Department is aware of many other South Africans who remain stranded abroad and continues to appeal for their patience as we explore and negotiate ways of bringing them back home.
It is also important to note that whilst the 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 thereof.
ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION