As many of us already aware, our beautiful city of Asmara was in total lockdown following the strict implementation of a nationwide stay-at-home order due to COVID-19. The international borders were closed and a ban on commercial flights was in effect since 25th March 2020.
However, on April 18th, something unusual was taking place at the Asmara International airport. But it was only made public a few days later by the U.S. Embassy in Asmara. It was about the repatriation of 29 American citizens from Asmara through a chartered flight to Addis Ababa.
“On April 18, the U.S. Embassy in Eritrea proudly repatriated 29 American citizens. We worked with other embassies in Asmara whose nationals were also passengers on the flight. We thank Ethiopian Airlines, our diplomatic partners, and the Government of Eritrea for their assistance.”
Although there was nothing wrong with the announcement, the lack of details for the reason behind the repatriation left some people to struggle with their own interpretation and manipulation.
However, it was the UK’s Foreign and Common Wealth Office statement that cringed many Eritreans at home and abroad. The statement reads,
“Given the rapidly changing situation in Eritrea, we are temporarily withdrawing all UK staff from our Embassy.”
The combination of these two travel-related notices was enough to send the bankrupt anti-Eritrea detractors on overdrive. They were quick to assemble their ‘the sky is falling’ stories based on a figment of their own imagination.
The U.S. Embassy in Asmara quickly learned the confusion and issued more clarifications. It says, “the repatriation effort was worldwide and as of April 24, the U.S. Department of State has coordinated the repatriation of 67,448 Americans on 716 flights from 124 countries and territories.”
But what left the bankrupt detractors in stitches was the fact that the FCO statement on Eritrea actually signifies ‘nothing’ as the office uses the same ‘template’ to issue similar travel advice against other African countries, word-for-word.
After all said and done, one begs to know what actually happens on the 18th of April 2020.
As I mentioned above, Eritrea closed its borders completely on the 25th of March after four COVID-19 cases were detected from nationals that arrived from abroad. Three days before that, on 22nd of March, while the UK was starting the total lockdown, the son of the UK Ambassador to Eritrea arrived in Asmara for Holiday.
The Ambassador’s wife who has been living in Eritrea more or less the past year was in Asmara.
The British Embassy supports the measures taken by the Government of Eritrea to stop the spread of coronavirus. I encourage them however to let people leave Eritrea to return home and to allow Ethiopian Airlines to fly in this week at least. https://t.co/T56woncCZy
— @UKAmb_Walker (@UkambW) March 26, 2020
The UK Ambassador to Eritrea then decided to return his wife and son back to the UK and he contacted the FCO (Foreign and Common Wealth Office) for repatriation and he was told since his family size is not enough to send an Airplane, they asked him to look for a commercial flight.
The Ambassador then decided to contact Eritreans with UK citizenship and also he contacted US, Canada, German, Sweden Embassies in Eritrea and started registering citizens of these nations who were planning to travel back. They managed to register around 100 people and negotiated with the Eritrean government to use a chartered plane from Ethiopian Airlines.
After an agreement was reached with the Eritrean government, the passengers were told they will go back at no extra cost to their original ticket price. However, at the very last minute, everyone was asked to pay between USD $2,500 to 6,000 more.
A lot of people whose main reason for returning was money decided to remain in Eritrea. And others who decided to travel were horrified to make the payment and are organizing to lodge a complaint against Ethiopian Airlines for the exorbitant amount of money charged during this difficult time.
In the end, last Saturday the 18th of April a chartered Airlines arrived, and besides the 29 American citizens, the Ambassador and his deputy are reportedly the only staff that returned to the UK along with his son and wife.
The situation in Eritrea is calm, peaceful, and much more stable than the UK when it comes to COVID-19 control. So, issuance of a blanket statement against Eritrea actually did misrepresent the situation at best and misleading at worst.