Unreturned calls, automated emails: Albertans stuck abroad have trouble returning home

Click to play video: '‘Help us’: Canadians stuck abroad amid coronavirus outbreak ask federal government to step in' ‘Help us’: Canadians stuck abroad amid coronavirus outbreak ask federal government to step in
There are about three million Canadians stuck abroad as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the nation. As countries close borders and impose travel restrictions, many of those citizens are finding it nearly impossible to get home. Morganne Campbell reports – Mar 17, 2020

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has estimated three million Canadians are abroad. While he admits not all want to come home, he’s urging those that do to do so as soon as possible due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following that advice is proving extremely difficult though.

At the start of March, Edmontonians Juliette and James Statt took their four children on a 12-day cruise. They left from Florida and went to Barcelona.

When they arrived, they discovered the country was on the verge of a complete lock-down.

The Statt Family at the beginning of their vacation in Florida.
The Statt Family at the beginning of their vacation in Florida. Courtesy: The Statt Family

The family of six managed to get to Amsterdam, but has since had three flights home to Canada cancelled. They’re anticipating an Air Canada flight booked for Saturday will at least get them to Toronto.

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“We are hoping that this one on Saturday sticks and we can come home,” explained Juliette.

Sheila Ethier is in a similar position.

READ MORE: Canada tightens borders over coronavirus — will it curb COVID-19’s spread?

The St. Albert resident is in Mexico and was scheduled to return April 7.

Listening to federal advice, she moved her ticket up to March 25.

On Monday, WestJet, the carrier she’s flying with, announced it was suspending all international flights after March 22.

Click to play video: 'WestJet halts all commercial, international and transborder flights' WestJet halts all commercial, international and transborder flights
WestJet halts all commercial, international and transborder flights – Mar 17, 2020

Ethier said the company told her she will only be able to fly home if there is a plane available but that there was no guarantee and no way to move her flight earlier.

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“I’m a nurse. I could be back home on the front lines taking care of patients,” said Ethier, explaining she is afraid she will run out of medication and money.

The federal government announced an emergency loan program to help Canadians abroad come home.

Travellers can apply for up to $5,000 in funding to help with tickets and supplies to help them get by until they can return.

“We will make measures available through Global Affairs Canada loans and supports. We’re working with airlines to try and make sure that as many Canadians as possible, as many Canadians as want to, can come home,” Trudeau said Tuesday.

The prime minister also touted contact information Canadians could use to get help.

Those abroad were encouraged to email or call 1-613-996-8885.

But Global News discovered the phone number was not connecting to a person or information.

Instead, when dialed, an automated messaged stated the office was closed.

Travellers also report getting an automated email but no follow up when they try the email address.

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“The financial aid doesn’t do much when there’s nowhere you can put the money towards, there’s no flights,” said frustrated St. Albert resident, Stephen Rausch.

His mother Judy is with a large travel group in Morocco.

Albertan Judy Rausch is stuck in Morocco due to the Coronavirus. Courtesy: Stephen Rausch

The group is unable to return home because that country has cancelled all outgoing flights.

“We need the government to engage with Morocco in order to get some flights and evacuate our residents,” said Rausch.

Rausch says not being able to get in contact with anyone from the airline or the federal government is making the situation more stressful.

The Statt family said they were trying to stay positive.

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“People have been incredibly generous and kind and empathetic to our situation,” James explained.

But Juliette jumped in to assert they are ready to return home.

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