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Canadians still stranded in Nepal must find their own way home

Jesse Vad

The Jakarta Post

California, United States  /  Mon, June 1, 2020  /  03:51 pm
Canadians still stranded in Nepal must find their own way home

A Buddhist temple in Nepal. (Shutterstock/Berzina)

Sonam Topgyal and his family left Canada and arrived in Nepal in the beginning of March after months of planning. It was their first family vacation and Topgyal, his wife and two children couldn’t have been more excited to visit their relatives in Nepal. 

What was supposed to be a month-long vacation then turned into a stay without an end in sight. After Nepal was locked down on March 24 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Topgyal and his family were stuck. The situation became more stressful as the family ran low on supplies, such as diapers and baby formula.

Now, Topgyal’s 7-month-old daughter is overdue for her immunizations.

Hundreds of Canadians have been stranded in Nepal for over two months since the country shut down in March. Aside from one repatriation flight organized by their government, the Canadians haven’t been offered many other ways to get back. The only option for those stuck now is to hope for a way home through expensive, private charter flights.

Sandwiched between China and India, the small, landlocked country of Nepal is host to a portion of the towering Himalayan mountains that draw tourists from all over the globe. In 2018, the Nepali government reported over 1 million tourists, the majority of whom came for trekking and mountaineering.

Nepal has suffered relatively minor impacts of COVID-19 with six recorded deaths and 1,401 confirmed cases. The government has, however, reported a steady increase in cases as it began administering more tests this month. 

Read also: Nepal closes Mount Everest for climbers because of coronavirus fears

A lack of options

Many of the Canadians visiting Nepal are largely trekkers and those seeking mountain adventure tourism. Others are Nepali Canadians who have come back to Nepal to visit family and friends. Now, both are stuck.

On April 11, the Canadian government organized a repatriation flight with Qatar Airlines that flew 143 Canadian citizens and permanent residents out of Nepal. Since then, there haven’t been any other flights organized by the government.

“What we were feeling was abandoned, really abandoned. And that’s how people feel for the moment still,” said Carl Kouri, a Canadian who was stuck in Nepal until he got out on the repatriation flight.

Kouri, assistant director in film production, now helps manage a Facebook group called Canadians Stranded in Nepal, where those stuck have come together for advice, brainstorming and questions. 

While there are travelers from many countries still stuck in Nepal, Kouri said other foreigners have had much better government communication and repatriation efforts compared to the Canadian community.

The United Kingdom, United States, France and Germany were among other countries that managed to schedule multiple repatriation efforts out of Nepal.

“Why is it that other nationalities are getting consular services and consular protection and we’re getting nothing?” asked Kouri.

The Canadian department of Global Affairs told The Jakarta Post there were 795 people currently within the Registration of Canadians Abroad in Nepal, a service that signs people up for updates from the government.

“We are doing everything we can to provide assistance under these unprecedented circumstances,” said a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada. “To help Canadians return home, the Government of Canada is working with airlines and foreign governments to facilitate flights to Canada from locations where there is a lack of international flights.”

Global Affairs Canada also said some Canadians may remain out of the country for an “indeterminate period” but that they would provide advice and support to those who can’t return. 

Read also: Empty trails and deserted villages: Pandemic brings Nepal mountain economy to a standstill

Waiting for a way home

There hasn’t been any word of more government facilitated flights in Nepal, despite the Global Affairs’ statement. Many of the Canadians have been reaching out to embassies, the Honorary Consul of Canada in Nepal and Members of Parliament for help but with no success.

The only option now seems to be to wait for private, chartered flights. Over the past few weeks, some have contacted President Travel and Tours, a local Nepali travel company, to help arrange flights back to Canada. 

Perhaps the biggest issue with these flights, though, is cost. Families who are stuck simply can’t afford the extraordinary commercial prices.

“I’m just really disgusted for all these families,” said Kouri.

Kouri has been trying to help organize private flights but he said part of the problem was companies often could not disclose a price until everything is finalized. And families can’t commit to buying a ticket until they know the price. Without a guaranteed number of passengers, the flights are often canceled.

Meanwhile, Topgyal and his family are staying with a relative, waiting.

“We do not have hope,” Topgyal said about getting help from officials.

Topgyal already tried to get on a flight scheduled by President Travel and Tours but couldn’t get seats. He argued with the company and tried to explain that he needed to get his child home for immunizations but it was too late.

Now, he has no choice but to wait until another private flight comes along, purchase tickets with a credit card and try to pay off the costs later.

Jetsun Zilnon Khartheng, Topgyal’s 9-year-old son, still attends school remotely from Nepal. For a recent homework assignment, Khartheng wrote a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, asking for help.

“My dad has been trying to get us back home but he has not succeeded,” the letter reads. “If you could help us that would be great. We are scared of COVID-19.” (wng)

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The writer is an intern at The Jakarta Post.

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