Urges Colleagues to Join in Efforts to Secure Safe Return of Americans Traveling Abroad
LOS ANGELES – Within 24 hours of demanding immediate assistance on behalf of her constituent and 3000 Americans who were stranded in Morocco, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (CA-43), Chair of the House Committee on Financial Services, received notice that the U.S. State Department had heeded her calls and chartered special emergency flights for all U.S. citizens in Morocco. The Moroccan government had previously announced the suspension of all international flights to and from its airports as a protective measure against the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). The special return flights, which were chartered by the State Department through American Airlines partner British Airways, began transporting Americans home from Morocco on Friday, March 20.
“I am elated that my constituent and all Americans who were stranded in Morocco will now be able to safely return home to the United States,” said Congresswoman Maxine Waters. “The lack of response and distress that these U.S. citizens endured is absolutely unthinkable. I am pleased that the State Department has decided to uphold its responsibility to protect American citizens who are stranded abroad as we confront the coronavirus pandemic, and I commend American Airlines for their assistance with this matter. I urge my colleagues in Congress to continue to monitor reports of Americans who may be stranded in other countries and ensure that the Trump administration is providing assistance and safe passage home to all Americans who are stranded abroad.”
On Tuesday, March 17, Congresswoman Waters received a call from her constituent requesting help with reaching the State Department and U.S. Embassy in Morocco, which had ignored requests for assistance from Americans who were stranded in Morocco. Congresswoman Waters immediately directed her staff to investigate the matter and further learned that approximately 3000 Americans were facing the same plight in Morocco.
On Wednesday, March 18, Congresswoman Waters sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanding an immediate explanation as to how and when the State Department, as well as United States Ambassador to Morocco David T. Fischer, would implement a plan to repatriate stranded Americans in Morocco, including but not limited to State Department chartered flights leaving the region. She also made numerous phone calls directly to the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Morocco requesting answers and immediate assistance for her constituent. Her letter can be found here.
On Thursday, March 19, the State Department and the U.S. Mission to Morocco announced the arrangement of American Airlines (British Airways) flights for U.S. citizens and permanent residents beginning on Friday, March 20 from Marrakech International Airport in Morocco.
On Friday, March 20, Congresswoman Waters also penned a “Dear Colleague” letter to House Members alerting them of the plight facing Americans who were stranded in Morocco, Peru, Guatemala, and other countries, and urged them to continue to work with the State Department to ensure the safe return of all Americans who are stranded abroad. The full text of her letter can be found here and is pasted below:
March 20, 2020
I write with an update regarding our constituents who have been stranded abroad due to countries shutting down their borders in response to COVID-19.
As the COVID-19 panic spread worldwide, Americans abroad in several countries found themselves trapped and stranded, without clear direction or support from the Trump administration. As countries began closing their borders, I received communications from my constituents who informed me that they were stranded in Morocco. Once I learned about their plight, I immediately contacted the State Department, only to confirm what my constituents had alleged: that the State Department was not properly communicating with Americans seeking to return to their home country, in stark contrast to other nations, which had effectively implemented operations to repatriate their citizens home. In response, I sent the attached letter to the State Department, expressing frustration with the failure of our officials to provide assistance and safe passage home to Americans stranded abroad.
Finally, after failing to communicate properly with the Americans who had been abandoned by our government in Morocco and with no substantive operations plan to repatriate our constituents, the Department responded to my letter on the 19th, confirming that chartered flights would be available for those still unable to return to the United States. For any member with constituents stranded in Morocco: please advise them to contact MoroccoEvac@state.gov, and notify them that they should be prepared to depart from Marrakech International Airport. The flights are being serviced by British Airways, a partner of American Airlines, and will connect to one of ten domestic destinations by way of London. While this situation was not resolved as expeditiously or efficiently as our constituents deserved, I am pleased to know that the Department has responded to my letter and taken substantive action to bring them home. I want to also commend American Airlines for working with the State Department to develop a plan to ensure all Americans stranded in Morocco are afforded the opportunity to return home.
I understand that there are more Americans stranded abroad in other countries, including Peru and Guatemala, in addition to the approximately 3,000 Americans who were stranded in Morocco at the time my constituent contacted me for assistance. Since we know that many of our constituents may be experiencing similar challenges in other countries, we must continue to work together with the State Department to ensure that all Americans who want to return to the US are afforded the opportunity to do so safely.
Member of Congress