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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 PompeoBiden loves the Georgia boycott — So why won't he boycott the Beijing Olympic games? The Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings Five things to watch for at the GOP's donor retreat 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) MenendezDemocrats gear up for major push to lower drug prices Biden under pressure to spell out Cuba policy Senators to Biden: 'We must confront the reality' on Iran nuclear program 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 BookerThe first Southern state legalizes marijuana — what it means nationally Top Democrat calling for expansion of child care support When it comes to the Iran nuclear deal, what's a moderate Democrat to do? MORE (N.J.), Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinWhen it comes to the Iran nuclear deal, what's a moderate Democrat to do? Battle lines drawn on Biden's infrastructure plan GOP senator hammers Biden proposal to raise corporate tax rate MORE (Md.), Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsFive takeaways from Biden's first budget proposal The Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings Biden-GOP infrastructure talks off to rocky start MORE (Del.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Defense: Congress looks to rein in Biden's war powers | Diversity chief at Special Operations Command reassigned during probe into social media posts Congress looks to rein in Biden's war powers House panel advances bill to repeal 2002 war authorization MORE (Va.), Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyHillicon Valley: Supreme Court sides with Google in copyright fight against Oracle | Justices dismiss suit over Trump's blocking of critics on Twitter | Tim Cook hopes Parler will return to Apple Store Democrats press Facebook on plans for Instagram for kids Give Republicans the climate credit they deserve MORE (Mass.), Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyGreen tech isn't all it's cracked up to be 2024 GOP White House hopefuls lead opposition to Biden Cabinet 33 Democrats urge Biden to shut down Dakota Access Pipeline MORE (Ore.), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyPassage of FASTER Act is critical for food allergy community Sunday shows: Biden's border woes, gun control dominate Murphy, Toomey say background check bill could pass Senate MORE (Conn.) and Tom UdallTom UdallOregon senator takes center stage in Democratic filibuster debate Bipartisan bill seeks to raise fees for public lands drilling OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Haaland courts moderates during tense confirmation hearing | GOP's Westerman looks to take on Democrats on climate change | White House urges passage of House public lands package 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 EngelProgressives target Manchin, Sinema with new PAC State Department sets up new bureau for cybersecurity and emerging technologies How Congress dismissed women's empowerment 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.