Cornavirus crisisMinistry has for days been warning flight options dwindling

Israeli travelers beg to come home, complain Foreign Ministry not doing enough

With flights canceled and borders shut and the situation likely to get worse, some groups are trying to crowdfund costs of leasing private planes to bring them back

El Al planes seen at Ben Gurion International Airport, file (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)
El Al planes seen at Ben Gurion International Airport, file (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

Many Israelis say they are stranded abroad due to flight cancellations and border closures enacted as a result of the coronavirus crisis, with some accusing the Foreign Ministry of not doing enough to help them.

In pleas posted to social media, travelers have been asking for help, explaining that flights were canceled or that the costs were prohibitively high.

Tom Hefer, who is in Australia with his girlfriend, wrote a post on Facebook saying that “the situation here is deteriorating at a dizzying pace. More and more patients are being discovered in Australia every day, and the guidelines are getting stricter. Flights are canceled, we have no way to return.

“The Foreign Ministry refuses to help us, and we are trying to lease a plane that will take us home. There are very high flight costs, please help us,” he wrote.

With airlines cutting flights across the board amid the drop in global travel due to the pandemic, the Foreign Ministry on Thursday reiterated an earlier call to all Israelis who “want to come home” to do so immediately.

“Given the reductions and cancellation of flights worldwide, and the moves by countries to close their airspace and their borders because of the coronavirus outbreak, we are again calling on those Israelis abroad who want to come home to do so as soon as possible,” the ministry said in a statement.

It has also published on its website a list of countries (Hebrew) that fly to Israel, with updates regarding whether such flights still exist as well as details of border closures and whether neighboring countries will allow them in.

A spokesman for the ministry said Israelis abroad should not expect the country to provide free charter flights if a decision is made to halt all air traffic.

Meanwhile, 120 Israeli tourists in Costa Rica and Colombia have started a crowdfunding campaign to lease a plane, Channel 13 reported Saturday. According to the travelers’ parents, the Foreign Ministry did not respond to their requests for help. The group needs to raise $400,000 to fund the flight.

An Israeli who gave his name only as Oren told Channel 13 that he had been unable to find a flight home from New Zealand since airlines canceled two flights he booked as the crisis worsened.

“I’m looking to be rescued and I am willing to spend money. I just want to return home safely to my family,” he said.

Israel’s ambassador to Colombia, a country popular with Israeli travelers, on Saturday issued an urgent call for Israelis in the country to immediately leave.

“We reiterate our recommendation for Israelis to return as soon as possible through commercial international flights still departing from Bogota,” wrote Ambassador Christian Cantor.

A Peruvian soldier unloads the bags of Israeli travelers at the airport in Peru’s southeastern city of Cusco, March, 19, 2020. (Amsalem Tours)

Thousands of Israelis are believed to be in South America, where several countries have announced border closures to combat the spread of coronavirus. Argentina and Peru both announced border closures Sunday, while Chile implemented one on Wednesday. A travel ban on foreigners took effect on Monday in Colombia, and Brazil has said travelers should be prepared for a ban to be put in place.

On Friday four specially organized flights evacuating Israelis who had been stuck in Peru arrived in Israel. The four El Al flights brought back some 1,100 Israelis, but 23 backpackers were left behind with no space on the planes and were working with Israel’s embassy in Lima to find a solution.

El Al also said it was sending two flights to India, where some 3,000 Israelis were reported to be stranded. The company said it was examining the possibility of also sending a third flight.

India’s government on Thursday announced a one-day curfew for the 1.3 billion population and banned international flights to test the country’s ability to fight the coronavirus pandemic. It said no international flights would be allowed to land in India for one week after 0000 GMT Saturday into Sunday at the port of departure.

Members of disaster response force spray disinfectants as a precautionary measure against COVID-19 outside a temple in Hyderabad, India, Friday, March 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)

New Delhi has already suspended the visas of all foreign tourists and barred passengers of flights from the worst-hit European nations.

The flights from Peru, which picked up some 550 Israelis from Cusco, a city in southeastern Peru, before heading to the capital Lima to pick up the rest of the Israelis in the South American country, had faced delays departing.

The planes were finally okayed to fly from Cusco to Lima after Foreign Minister Israel Katz spoke with his Peruvian counterpart Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, who gave the go-ahead after consulting with Peru’s transportation minister, the foreign minister said.

Israelis on a plane flying from the Peruvian city of Cusco to Lima, where they will board flights back to Israel, March 19, 2020. (Amsalem Tours)

Peru had blocked the flights over concerns about having such a large group land in Lima and fears that the Israelis could look for lodgings in the city, potentially increasing the spread of the virus, according to Channel 12 news.

Any Israelis returning to the country must quarantine for 14 days in accordance with Health Ministry guidelines. The Interior Ministry announced Wednesday that effective immediately, only citizens and those who base their lives in Israel will be allowed into the country.

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