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Democrats press Pompeo to help Americans stranded abroad amid coronavirus

Democrats press Pompeo to help Americans stranded abroad amid coronavirus
© Greg Nash

Senate Democrats are calling on Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoOn The Money: Retail sales drop in latest sign of weakening economy | Fast-food workers strike for minimum wage | US officials raise concerns over Mexico's handling of energy permits US officials raise concerns over Mexico's handling of energy permits Treasury imposes additional sanctions on Cuba over allegations of 'serious human rights abuse' MORE to do more to help Americans stuck abroad as countries rapidly close their borders to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezYear-end deal creates American Latino, women's history museums Lawmakers call for including creation of Latino, women's history museums in year-end spending deal Trump offered 0 million to terrorism victims to save Sudan-Israel deal  MORE (D-N.J.), the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, sent a letter on Wednesday to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to clarify the government’s response to assisting citizens seeking to return to the U.S. amid flight cancelations and border closures.

“We write to express our urgent concerns regarding the support being provided to citizens overseas, including those seeking to return to the United States, as the spread of coronavirus continues to impose significant challenges for governments and communities worldwide,” he wrote.

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The letter was signed by Democratic Sens. Cory BookerCory BookerNCAA tables name, image and likeness vote after DOJ warns of potential antitrust violations Warren and other senators seek investigation into Trump administration resuming federal executions Cory Booker says he has no plans to propose to Rosario Dawson this Christmas MORE (N.J.), Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinGeorgia keeps Senate agenda in limbo Trump signs bill authorizing memorial to fallen journalists Sweeping COVID-19, spending deal hits speed bumps MORE (Md.), Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsSecurity concerns mount ahead of Biden inauguration Trump impeachment collides with Biden's agenda Sanders to wield gavel as gatekeeper for key Biden proposals MORE (Del.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael Kaine'I saw my life flash before my eyes': An oral history of the Capitol attack 7 surprise moments from a tumultuous year in politics Robert E. Lee statue removed from US Capitol MORE (Va.), Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyFive centrist Democrats oppose Pelosi for Speaker in tight vote David Sirota: Democrats gave away leverage in forcing vote on ,000 checks Sanders to slow down NDAA veto override in bid to get vote on K checks proposal MORE (Mass.), Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyBiden and the new Congress must protect Americans from utility shutoffs Flags, signs and other items left behind in Capitol riot to be preserved as historical artifacts Laptop stolen from Pelosi's office during Capitol riots MORE (Ore.), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocratic senator: COVID-19 relief is priority over impeachment trial Lawmakers push back on late Trump terror designation for Yemen's Houthis Bipartisan anger builds over police failure at Capitol MORE (Conn.) and Tom UdallTom UdallSenate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes We can achieve our democratic ideals now by passing the For the People Act Haaland nomination generates excitement in Native American communities MORE (N.M.).

The U.S. has not announced any plans to evacuate Americans abroad since undertaking evacuation flights last month from China and Japan as the coronavirus outbreak grew.

At least 500 Americans in Peru are appealing to the U.S. government for help leaving the country after it shut down its borders for 15 days beginning Monday and canceled all flights.

“We are particularly concerned about an increasing number of reports that Americans and their family members have been unable to leave areas affected by COVID-19 and return home,” Democrats wrote in their letter. “In particular, Americans in Honduras, Morocco, Peru and Tunisia, among other countries have reported to our offices that they are encountering difficulties in obtaining support from U.S. Embassies and Consulates, including to arrange commercial flights home.”

“In some cases they are reporting that they are unable to establish contact with, or receive even basic information from, U.S. Embassy personnel,” the senators added.

The State Department has given no indication it is working to help Americans stranded abroad. Pompeo said in a briefing with reporters Tuesday that he encourages Americans to “make good decisions” with their travel plans.

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“You see our travel advisories as they go out, trying to make sure they’re in step with the latest data sets we have in each – not only in each country, but in every province, county, township,” he said. “So we’re articulating them properly so that Americans make good decisions about whether they should or should not travel.”

But short-notice border closures have given Americans little time to evacuate countries.

Menedez said providing support and assistance to Americans abroad "are among the Department's most fundamental responsibilities."

Rep. Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelState Department sets up new bureau for cybersecurity and emerging technologies How Congress dismissed women's empowerment 2020: A year in photos MORE (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he has raised the issue with the State Department. 

“We are in the midst of an unprecedented situation, as border closures, travel bans, and other restrictions grow while governments fight to control the virus’s spread,” he wrote in an email to The Hill. “I appreciate the complexities of such a scenario and have stressed to senior State Department leadership Congress’s profound concern for the welfare of American citizens abroad.”

The U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia said it is receiving reports of foreigners being harassed and assaulted in the capital Addis Ababa; some are being attacked with stones while others have been denied transportation and accused of being infected with COVID-19.

 

“The Embassy continues to receive reports regarding a rise in anti-foreigner sentiment revolving around the announcement of COVID-19 in Ethiopia,” the embassy wrote in a security alert.

The embassy did not clarify if Americans are in specific danger but said harassment is targeting foreigners in general, with reports of people shouting “China” and “ferengi,” meaning “foreigner” coupled with “coronavirus.”

In Morocco, the U.S. embassy is directing Americans wanting to leave the country to book commercial flights to London through European airline carriers that are running “emergency commercial flights” from Agadir and Marrakesh. Although such flights are expected to end on Thursday.

The flights are being coordinated through the British Embassy in Morocco. The U.S. embassy said it can’t guarantee seats for Americans on British Airways, Easy Jet, Ryan Air and TUI.

 

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Stranded American travelers in Peru have criticized the U.S. embassy, calling it unhelpful and unresponsive.

Kristin Monesmith, an emergency department nurse for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who is stranded in Peru, previously told The Hill that the U.S. consulate has provided no informative guidance.

“The consulate has been less than any help, just refers to a website. We truly feel abandoned by the U.S.," she said.

Peru’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is encouraging foreign travelers unable to depart to register with the agency and receive the latest guidance for tourists.

Other countries have taken matters into their own hands.

Israel sent a commercial El Al flight to Peru to evacuate its citizens who were stuck there, Foreign Minister Israel Katz said on Twitter.

Last week, India sent a military aircraft to Iran to evacuate its nationals.

Iran has the second highest number of coronavirus cases behind China.