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South Africans stranded in Morocco demand answers about repatriation

24 April 2020 - 11:14 By Ernest Mabuza
A group of 34 South Africans stranded in Morocco wants to know when they will be taken home.
A group of 34 South Africans stranded in Morocco wants to know when they will be taken home.
Image: 123RF/Dmitrijs Kaminskis

A group of 34 South Africans who have been stranded in Morocco for more than a month is looking for answers from the department of international relations and co-operation (Dirco) regarding their repeated unsuccessful attempts to be repatriated to SA.

The group had pinned its hopes of being repatriated on one of the SAA aircraft chartered by foreign governments to take their citizens out of South Africa, when the planes returned to SA.

With indications from SAA business rescue practitioners on Thursday that the repatriation flights will cease at the end of April, the group fears it might take longer before there is a chance for them to fly home.

The group was trapped in Morocco after SA declared a state of disaster, which included a complete lockdown, on March 21.

The only way to fly out of Morocco is through approval by the Moroccan government.

On April 10, the embassy in Morocco tried to arrange a charter flight to take the stranded citizens to Cairo, Egypt, where they would then fly back to SA on a returning SAA flight from Europe.

However, that plan did not materialise.

On Tuesday, the group was told there was a strong possibility that a flight from Frankfurt on Friday could pick up the group on its way back to SA. However, the group received a call from the embassy on Wednesday to say the flight was not happening.

On Thursday morning the South Africans wrote a letter to Dirco to establish why the group's planned repatriation to SA had been called off. The group said it was filled with hope on Tuesday, but was now again frustrated and angry.

“Please can someone explain why the repatriation flight to Morocco has been called off? The circumstances must be similar to the Cairo flight which happened (on Wednesday), so we are not understanding the reasons given,” the group said.

The group was referring to a flight that picked up 43 South African citizens from Cairo on Wednesday afternoon. The Egyptian group arrived at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg  on Thursday morning.

The Moroccan group said the reasons given by the department for the cancellation of the flight included landing fees, aircraft handling fees, extra fuel and pilots not exceeding time allowed.

“There is little or no difference between our situation and the successful flight to Cairo, so why would these apply now?” the group wrote.

The group said the number of travellers was another reason given by the department to explain why the group in Morocco could not be accommodated. It said the difference in the number was nine fewer passengers in Morocco compared with on the Egypt flight.

“I do think there should be an explanation regarding why it didn't happen. The flights are paid for by foreign governments, and the return flight would have been included in the costing.

“The contributions from us, plus assistance from the SA government, should cover any diversion en route home,” the group said.

The group had not received a response from Dirco by Friday morning.