Extraordinary Coronavirus Repatriation Effort Brings 500,000 EU Citizens Home
In a remarkable peacetime repatriation campaign, the EU has now managed to bring home more than 500,000 EU citizens who were stranded outside the bloc when the outbreak began. The unprecedented effort has now successfully repatriated the majority of the 600,000 Europeans who were travelling outside of the EU, many in the Asia-Pacific region or in the Americas.
Due to the significant demand for the repatriation flights, the programme has focused on bringing back European citizens who were temporarily outside the bloc, rather than people permanently living abroad.
The scheme has been overseen by Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the European Union, and a dedicated task force under the aegis of the European External Action Service.
The ambitious scheme has also benefited the bloc’s neighbouring countries, as roughly 5,000 nationals of Turkey, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland, Iceland and the UK have been repatriated on flights organised by the EU.
The UK, despite having left the European Union in January, is still a full member of the Civil Protection Mechanism until the Brexit transition period elapses on December 31st. The EU allows countries outside the bloc to choose to participate in the scheme, but the UK has not indicated that it intends to do so after the end of this year.
Latin America has emerged as a particular hotspot with a number of Europeans requesting consular assistance to get home, and local authorities have at times been openly hostile to the EU’s efforts to repatriate its citizens. The mayor of Guayaquil, Ecuador, ordered trucks onto the runway of the city’s airport to block what she called a “criminal” initiative, citing fears that the aircraft’s crew might be infected with the novel coronavirus. The EU, alongside the Spanish government, subsequently asked authorities in Quito to ensure that European planes would be allowed to land.