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 PompeoHillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike COVID-19 intensifies the case for blacklisting Khalifa Haftar  House Republican urges Pompeo to take steps to limit misinformation from China on coronavirus 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) MenendezHillicon Valley: Facebook launches portal for coronavirus information | EU sees spike in Russian misinformation on outbreak | Senate Dem bill would encourage mail-in voting | Lawmakers question safety of Google virus website Democratic senators press Google over privacy of coronavirus screening site Menendez calls for 'Marie Yovanovitch bill' to protect foreign service employees 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 Anthony BookerLawmakers, labor leaders ramp up calls to use Defense Production Act Democratic senators call on FDA to drop restrictions on blood donations from men who have sex with men Amazon doubling overtime pay for warehouse workers MORE (N.J.), Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinDemocratic senator asks Pompeo to stop saying 'Wuhan virus' Small-business rescue package expected to swell to 0 billion or more McConnell sets Friday night deadline for bipartisan deal on stimulus MORE (Md.), Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenate includes 0M for mail-in voting in coronavirus spending deal Hillicon Valley: Facebook reports huge spike in usage during pandemic | Democrats push for mail-in voting funds in coronavirus stimulus | Trump delays deadline to acquire REAL ID Democrats press for more stimulus funding to boost mail-in voting MORE (Del.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineSenate on cusp of coronavirus stimulus deal after agreements in key areas Some Democrats growing antsy as Senate talks drag on Who should be the Democratic vice presidential candidate? MORE (Va.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyHillicon Valley: Twitter says Chinese official's virus disinformation doesn't violate rules | Hackers target WHO | Senators urge agencies to stop coronavirus robocalls Senators urge FCC, DOJ to combat coronavirus robocalls Democrats fume over GOP coronavirus bill: 'Totally inadequate' MORE (Mass.), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyHouse bill would ban stock trading by members of Congress Lawmakers ask Trump administration to help Gulf oil and gas producers Overnight Energy: Trump prepares to buy 30M barrels of oil amid industry slump | Coronavirus offers reprieve from air pollution | Energy regulators split on delaying actions amid outbreak MORE (Ore.), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyLawmakers, labor leaders ramp up calls to use Defense Production Act Senate rejects GOP attempt to change unemployment benefits in coronavirus stimulus bill Last-minute complaints threaten T Senate coronavirus emergency aid MORE (Conn.) and Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallDemocrats press Pompeo to help Americans stranded abroad amid coronavirus Democrats press FEC pick to recuse himself from Trump matters Overnight Energy: Watchdog blasts planning behind BLM relocation | Progress on Senate energy bill | Dems eye two measures for inclusion ahead of vote 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 EngelHillicon Valley: Facebook reports huge spike in usage during pandemic | Democrats push for mail-in voting funds in coronavirus stimulus | Trump delays deadline to acquire REAL ID Lawmakers urge EU to sanction Putin associate for election interference Democrats press Pompeo to help Americans stranded abroad amid coronavirus 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.