• PS Macharia Kamau said although possibility of immediate evacuation is limited, plans must be put in place to help those Kenyans come home as soon as global conditions allow and flights become viable.
• He said the Ministry facing challenges in reaching out to those making distress calls under current lockdown situation.
The government has dismissed claims that it has ruled out evacuation of Kenyans living abroad.
Foreign Affairs PS Macharia Kamau on Thursday told the Star that the government is deeply concerned about its citizens, especially those in China, India and Iran but under the current situation, it is impossible for them to come home.
He said most of the countries hosting Kenyans are on lockdown with no form of movement allowed either on land, sea or air.
He said it is for the same reason the government is unable to bring home for burial those who have died abroad for the last one month.
The PS earlier on advised families whose family have died abroad to allow them to be buried where they are as under the current situation it would not be possible to come home.
Kamau said another challenge is that these countries are not facilitating international travel and thus as much as the government would want these Kenyans home, without that facilitation it remains impossible.
The PS was responding to claims that Kenyans living abroad will have to remain in the foreign countries after the government ruled out plans to facilitate transport for those wishing to return back home, citing cost and logistical challenges.
According to the reports, Kamau said it is impossible to charter flights to pick the Kenyans stranded in various countries and bring them back home in the face of the current global crisis.
But Kamau is his response said while meeting the National Assembly’s Defense and Foreign Relations Committee he indicated that the diaspora situation deserved heightened attention.
“I indicated that although possibility of immediate evacuation is limited, plans must be put in place to help those Kenyans come home as soon as global conditions allow and flights become viable,” he said.
Kamau said he told the Katoo Ole Metito led committee that should evacuation of Kenyans become viable, which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs continues to investigate and pursue, flights would be of necessity from point to point.
“This is because commissioning of an aircraft to move from airport to airport would not be possible owing to global airspace lockdowns,” he said.
According to the PS, there are about three million Kenyans in the diaspora.
He said some of the Kenyans who are stranded are undocumented and the ministry is facing challenges in trying to respond to their calls.
He said for instance, an Emirates plane from the UAE recently flew to Nairobi and the government asked the airline to carry some Kenyans who had been asking to be evacuated.
He said despite the distress calls they had received from about 300 Kenyans indicating that they were willing to pay for their flights, only 13 showed up.
"I am one of those people who would be extremely happy to see these Kenyans home whether they have paid for their flights or not,” he said.
The PS had in a press briefing said the impact of this pandemic has been staggering and disrupted work.
As a result, he said millions of jobs have been lost and this has not spared the diaspora community.
“We find ourselves uniquely challenged in responding to distress calls from our diaspora in over the 140 countries we have a foot print. Many of them have run out of cash because they did not anticipate the situation. Our embassies are only in 54 countries and our staff are overwhelmed,” he said.
“A significant number of them have lost jobs and as a government this is a worrisome situation to us,” he said.
He said the government has been in purposeful engagements with all governments across the world.
“We have written to them asking them to look after Kenyans just as we look after the international community here in Nairobi to ensure no harm befalls on them. This includes an assurance that those affected will not be evicted from their premises and thrown out to the streets,” Kamau said.
He added, “This situation is going to be with us for about three to six months and therefore we must be prepared to face up to the situation. Right now there is nothing much we can do until the travel bans are lifted,” he said.
Kamau said some Kenyans including students are stranded in Spain, 21 other students are stranded in Hungary and 61 training assistants stranded in France.
We are worried about those in India. We have about 160 people stranded and due to lockdown in that country, we cannot bring them home,” he said.
According to the PS, 64 people who had gone for medication are among the 160 who have found themselves on the wrong side of the lockdown.
“The situation is worrying, some have run out of money and some sadly lost patients with whom they went for treatment and it’s tragic that they cannot bring their loved ones homes,” he noted.
Some other 18 Kenyans who had traveled as tourists in Australia are also stranded with Iran having over 200 students stranded.