The son of Foreign Service Health Provider Luke Caldwell looks at the repatriation airplane at the Algiers International airport that will take him and his mother home to the United States. Luke stayed behind in Algeria to take care of the embassy community. Photo courtesy of U.S. Mission Algeria

Near East Region: When Travel Ends

The same day his family left Algiers, Foreign Service Health Provider Luke Caldwell screened 124 Americans heading home on a repatriation flight.

The same day his family left Algiers, Foreign Service Health Provider Luke Caldwell screened 124 Americans heading home on a repatriation flight. Photo courtesy of U.S. Mission Algeria

Head of the Casablanca Consular Section posing with one of the last of American citizens to board the April 10th flight from Casablanca back to the United States. He stayed in Taghazout--a popular destination for surfers-- to catch “one last great wave.”

Head of the Casablanca Consular Section posing with one of the last of American citizens to board the April 10th flight from Casablanca back to the United States. He stayed in Taghazout–a popular destination for surfers– to catch “one last great wave.” Photo courtesy of U.S. Consulate General Casablanca, Morocco

Consul General Jennifer Rasamimanana, center, and staff from the U.S. Consulate Casablanca at Mohammed V International Airport after the last of the 205 passengers boarded a repatriation flight back to the United States on April 10.

Consul General Jennifer Rasamimanana, center, and staff from the U.S. Consulate Casablanca at Mohammed V International Airport after the last of the 205 passengers boarded a repatriation flight back to the United States on April 10. Photo courtesy of U.S. Consulate General Casablanca, Morocco

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The April 10th evacuation flight from Casablanca, Morocco carried 205 U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents. The U.S. Consulate dispatched seven buses to bring everyone to the airport.

The April 10 evacuation flight from Casablanca, Morocco carried 205 U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents. The U.S. Consulate dispatched seven buses to bring everyone to the airport. Photo courtesy of U.S. Consulate General Casablanca, Morocco

Morocco was one of the first countries to close its airspace to commercial travel to slow the spread of COVID-19. Overnight, thousands of Americans suddenly found themselves without a way to get home, and they turned to the U.S. Mission for help.

Morocco was one of the first countries to close its airspace to commercial travel to slow the spread of COVID-19. Overnight, thousands of Americans suddenly found themselves without a way to get home, and they turned to the U.S. Mission for help. Photo courtesy of U.S. Consulate General Casablanca, Morocco.

On April 3, U.S. Embassy Cairo posted on Instagram: “Wheels Up! A BIG thank you to @egyptair for today’s special flight to bring #AmericansHome!” Photo courtesy of U.S. Embassy Cairo, Egypt

On April 3, U.S. Embassy Cairo posted on Instagram: “Wheels Up! A BIG thank you to @egyptair for today’s special flight to bring #AmericansHome!” Photo courtesy of U.S. Embassy Cairo, Egypt

 

U.S. Consulate Casablanca staff arranged buses to transport Americans stranded across Morocco to the Casablanca airport to board a special commercial flight after the country closed its border. Photo courtesy of U.S. Mission Morocco

Spotlight on Repatriation: Morocco

On Sunday, March 14, 2020 the government of Morocco announced the total suspension of all international commercial flights in and out of the country.  Morocco was one of the first countries to undertake a full border closure, which stranded many Americans.

Over the next six weeks, U.S. diplomats and Moroccan staff at the U.S. Consulate in Casablanca responded by arranging 13 special repatriation flights for around 2,000 American citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents to return to the United States. Ryan Palsrok, Chief of the Consular Section arranging the flights, had to respond to several logistical challenges. Full border closures meant no U.S. carriers could fly to the country, nor would the government permit rest stops for arriving airline crews – not even the captain of a rescue plane landing in the country could deplane before flying back out again.  Given these obstacles, Palsrok and his colleagues  arranged flights to London where American citizens could get connections home.

U.S. Consulate staff remained professional, dedicated, and caring as they faced both logistical  and emotional challenges.  Palsrok recalled he could “name by heart” each of those 2,000 Americans and their particular needs, such as those facing urgent medical care, and others who had no means of transportation to the airport.  He and his colleagues cried “tears of exhaustion and pride,” for what they had accomplished when the first plane took off from Marrakech. However, as long as flights remain grounded, staff continues to provide services to Americans who remain. When travel ends, their work is just beginning.