Israelis repatriated for free from Peru refuse to commit to quarantine – report

In wake of incident, returning citizens who don’t sign Health Ministry self-isolation forms will be handed over to police

Hundreds of Israeli backpackers aboard an El Al Dreamlimer taking them from Lima, Peru, to Tel Aviv, March 2020 (Sivan Farage)
Hundreds of Israeli backpackers aboard an El Al Dreamlimer taking them from Lima, Peru, to Tel Aviv, March 2020 (Sivan Farage)

At least 30 Israelis who were on repatriation flights from Peru last week reportedly refused to sign a self-quarantine declaration required by the Health Ministry from returning international travelers.

The Ynet news site also reported Monday, quoting an immigration officer named only as D., that some of the returning backpackers had run riot upon landing at Ben Gurion Airport and had even coughed on immigration officials as a “joke.”

Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director-general of the Population and Immigration Authority, confirmed that the incident had indeed taken place.

“It’s a disgrace,” he said, “that people who fought to come back to Israel behaved as if they were on a field trip and didn’t understand what they were coming back to. The state made an enormous effort to repatriate them, sparing no expense, so I think that signing the declarations was the least they could do.”

The website reported that as a result of the incident, the Population and Immigration Authority, in consultation with the Health Ministry, has instructed officers to hand over to police and Health Ministry inspectors anyone refusing to sign the declaration.

Israeli travelers who had been stranded in South America, arrive at Ben Gurion airport on March 20, 2020. Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Last week, the Foreign Ministry organized four flights from Lima, Peru, bringing home more than 1,000 Israelis on four El Al 787 Dreamliners. These flights — the longest ever by an Israeli airline — were free of charge for the stranded backpackers, as the costs were footed by various sponsors.

About two dozen Israelis were unable to board those flights and Israeli officials have vowed to spare no effort to repatriate them as well.

Up to 10,000 Israelis are currently abroad and seek to return home, Israeli officials estimated this week, amid growing concerns that the widening coronavirus pandemic may make their return exceedingly difficult or even impossible as countries shut down their land and air borders.

The ministry has been working with El Al and two other Israeli airlines — Israir and Arkia — to launch several more “rescue missions” to various parts of the world, such Australia, Costa Rica, India (Mumbai and New Delhi), Italy, Croatia, Argentina and Brazil.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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