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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 PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoWar in the Caucasus: What happens without US leadership — but a chance to get it right Pompeo to meet separately with Azerbaijan, Armenia top diplomats Taking aim at online anti-Semitism 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) MenendezWatchdog confirms State Dept. canceled award for journalist who criticized Trump Kasie Hunt to host lead-in show for MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' Senators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report 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 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 EngelIs Trump a better choice for Jewish voters than Biden? Overnight Defense: Trump says he's leaving Walter Reed, 'feeling really good' after COVID-19 treatment | White House coronavirus outbreak grows | Dems expand probe into Pompeo speeches House Democrats push forward on probe of Pompeo's political speeches 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.

 

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.