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HOMECOMING

Stranded in India: SA citizens finally set to return after weeks of outcry

Stranded in India: SA citizens finally set to return after weeks of outcry
South Africans stranded in India will fly home on Friday. (Photo: iol.co.za / Wikipedia)

After nearly eight weeks of being stuck under quarantine in India, more than 250 South Africans are set to return home on Friday.

Sadhana (Sharon) Ryan arrived in Rajasthan, India on April 2. She was set to return home on 5 May. Unfortunately, the unforeseen Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting national lockdown had left her and many others unable to return home.

Ryan, a life coach from Gauteng, spoke to Maverick Citizen about the many struggles she and others have faced while under quarantine in India for 58 days.

“Lockdown descended so suddenly, with no preceding hints, that there was no time to get out of India,” says Ryan. 

Consequently, more than 250 South Africans were stranded and unable to return home. Ryan says that “among the elderly and children who make up our numbers is a stage 4 cancer patient, someone who suffers from diabetes and ischemic heart disease, both out of medication, and a young medical student who lost his father to Covid-19, with no assistance from the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) to get home for the funeral”.

Ryan says with continuous and rising temperatures in excess of 40°C by day and 35-38°C at night, she is “suffering serious heat exhaustion”.

“I’ve never felt so physically dysfunctional in my life”.

Ryan also missed the birth of her first grandchild, who was born on 26 April. “I missed the whole experience,” she said. 

Neither the South African government nor the Indian government had been in contact with the South African nationals.

Ryan started an online petition on 8 May, having realised that the South African government was not working urgently towards getting those left in India home.

Neither the South African government nor the Indian government had been in contact with the South African nationals. However, Ryan says Ben Joubert from the South African High Commission in Delhi had been the most supportive, but that he was unable to do much as he was “reliant” on Dirco for instructions.

“Dirco has been conspicuously absent through this entire lockdown, until last week,” said Ryan. She said it was “only after emailing an urgent appeal for assistance to every media contact I could find and an aggressive petition campaign on every platform” that their calls were heard.

Ryan said media statements sent out by Dirco had omitted India in its list of mentioned countries.

“All their newsletters were filled with stories of repatriation from many other countries, but never a mention of India.”

Ryan said that President Cyril Ramaphosa had a successful meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in mid-April during which they discussed allowing an Indian ship with scientists to dock in Cape Town. However, their repatriation was never a part of the negotiations.

“These facts leave South African citizens feeling abandoned by their own country, exacerbating the stresses of being stranded with no light at the end of the tunnel. That ship… docked long ago in our country [South Africa] and we’re still stuck here [in India],” said Ryan.

Although India had closed its airspace, it was only applicable to commercial flights and not to repatriation flights.

Ryan said she was “deeply disappointed” by the South African government for not bringing them home sooner and for Dirco’s lack of action and empathy. 

“For many on our Stranded in India group, the length of this lockdown coupled with Dirco’s lack of support has certainly taken a toll on all levels. Emotionally. Mentally. Physically. Financially

“Whilst we understand that repatriation is not an everyday operation, and involves challenges, Dirco employees are not adequately trained for what it is that Dirco does. If they even answer the phone, if they cannot answer your questions, they just put down the phone,” said Ryan.

Fortunately, after weeks of battling, those stranded in India are now set to return home on Friday 22 May. 

“After almost eight weeks of crushing disappointment at being forgotten and sidelined, all South African citizens stranded in India are excited about the developments last week and eager to get home,” said Ryan. DM/MC

Gallery

"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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