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24th Jul 2021

Not easy getting 80,000 EU citizens home

  • The EU has helped with the repatriation of 1,162 EU citizens to Europe from China, Japan, the US and Morocco so far (Photo: Ataturk airport)

European citizens are facing challenges to return home within the European Union and beyond its borders - due to the escalating number of restrictions announced globally.

While EU citizens trying to return home are experiencing kilometre-long queues at some EU borders, there are around another 80,000 EU citizens stuck outside the bloc who want to return to Europe, the European Commission estimated on Wednesday (18 March).

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"The number we are working with now, an aggregated number from member states, is approximately, 80,000 people outside the EU," a commission spokesman said.

However, this number could increase as more EU citizens are expected to seek urgent repatriation in the next days.

At EU level, the role of the European Union External Service (EEAS) is merely to coordinate actions with member states to find solutions for the repatriation of EU citizens.

"I will continue with EEAS and our EU delegations worldwide to support member states in providing coordinated consular assistance for the repatriation of thousands of EU citizens currently in third countries and wishing to return home," said EU's foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell on Twitter.

As consular assistance is a national competence, EU countries have installed emergency phone numbers for nationals abroad willing to return the EU.

So far, the EU has facilitated and supported the repatriation of 1,162 EU citizens to Europe from China, Japan, the US and Morocco since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak.

However, the EU's action has also been recently focused on the repatriation of EU citizens from Iran, Maldives and Sri Lanka.

Confusion

But as the outbreak intensifies, more and more EU countries are introducing stricter measures.

Most member states have imposed travel restrictions, closed their borders or reintroduced border controls - although nationals would be allowed to return home.

However, the lack of coordination has created confusing and controversial situations in several borders of the EU.

Earlier this week, EU citizens trying to get home to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were stuck at the German-Polish border as Poland recently closed borders for non-nationals - cutting off the Baltic states from mainland Europe.

As a result, Estonia and Latvia have been obliged to dispatch ships to bring back their citizens from Germany late on Wednesday, while Lithuanian authorities said that its citizens could return also by train and by plane.

However, the commission presumes that the situation in the Polish-German border will improve soon.

"I am positive that there will be movement and a positive change in the next few days," said the president of the commission, Ursula von der Leyen, after EU leaders decided on Tuesday to closed Europe's external borders for non-essential travelling for 30 days.

Meanwhile, Germany's foreign minister, Heiko Maas, announced that the federal government will make available €50m to do "everything possible" to repatriate German citizens stuck in countries affected by the coronavirus.

14-day isolation

The EU's executive body on Monday put forward a set of guidelines for border management measures, urging all member states to always admit their citizens and residents and facilitate the transit of other EU citizens and residents that are returning home.

"We expect member states, in the spirit of cooperation and solidarity, to implement them as soon as possible," a commission spokesman said on Wednesday.

"This is key for citizens who are sometimes stranded in other member states and who want to go home. It is key also to ensure the delivery of medical equipment and supplies to our health systems," he added.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of member states are requiring returnees to remain in isolation for 14 days.

As of 18 March, more than 208,185 laboratory-confirmed cases of coronavirus have been reported worldwide, as well as 8,272 deaths and 82,902 recoveries.

Over 31,000 cases of coronavirus have been registered in Italy, the most-affected country in Europe - followed by Spain (13,910), Germany (11,302) and France (7,730).

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