Maritimers stranded in Guatemala riding emotional ‘rollercoaster’ of COVID-19

Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network workers (left to right) Laura Robinson, Indigo Christ and Lenora Yarkie have been stranded in Guatemala City since the country shut down its borders on March 16, 2020. Laura Robinson/Submitted

Two Maritimers and one Albertan stranded in Guatemala are calling on the Trudeau government to end their emotional “roller coaster” and bring them home.

Indigo Christ of Halifax, Laura Robinson of Rothsay, N.B. and Lenora Yarkie of Edmonton have been stuck in the Central American country since its borders shut down on March 16.

“We’re healthy and we’re safe, but we’re anxious to get home,” Yarkie told Global News. “It’s like falling down to the bottom of a roller coaster, you know how your stomach feels?

“We’ve been riding that roller coaster of hope and despair, hope and despair, and disappointment.”

READ MORE: Canada working with commercial airlines to repatriate stranded citizens

All three are field workers for the Nova Scotia-based Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence (BTS) Network. The non-profit supports the work of human rights activists in Guatemala, particularly campaigns promoting the rights of women and Indigenous peoples.

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It decided to evacuate them on March 14 as global concern around the COVID-19 pandemic intensified, and secured their places on a flight out of Guatemala City on March 17.

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Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau says ‘it’s time’ to bring Canadians back from abroad

One day before that plane took off, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei closed off the borders for 15 days in a bid to prevent the spread of infection.

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“All of us were defeated. I felt defeated,” said Christ, speaking in a video call with her peers on March 21.

READ MORE: Stranded travellers call on Trudeau for flights home

On Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government is working with commercial airlines to repatriate stranded Canadians, but it won’t be able to help everyone.

As it stands, he said his team is trying to co-ordinate new flights for Canadians stuck in Spain and Peru.

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“I think every Canadian is worried they’ll be one of the ones who is not being supported,” said Christ.

READ MORE: Mandatory quarantine in the Philippines leaves Canadians trapped abroad

News outlets report at least eight cases of COVID-19 in Guatemala, as confirmed by the country’s president on Wednesday.

Yarkie said she’s worried not only for herself and her colleagues, but all Guatemalans who face additional barriers to earning income and obtaining critical supplies during the pandemic.

“It’s a huge concern in a country that already has malnutrition levels,” she explained. “We’re very concerned about our partners and how they’re faring, so we’re in contact with them.”

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Maritimes-Guatemala BTS has sent a letter to federal Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne seeking additional consular support for the women, who have not been able to reach a consular official in several days.

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The phone lines at the Canadian embassy in Guatemala City have been tied up all week, they explained, and their calls have been redirected to Ottawa, or assistants that don’t pick up.

READ MORE: N.S. boosts support for businesses, freezes provincial student loan payments

“There’s been no Canadian embassy-organized buses, they’ve just been saying there’s a Guatemalan bus company, they’ll be taking people from Antigua in Guatemala,” said Christ.

“It’s up to Canadians if they would like to take all of these risks, they’re not advising us to do that or not to do that, so we’re really getting no information.”

The letter sent to Champagne’s office asks Global Affairs Canada to streamline communications to everyone on the Registration of Canadians Abroad database, negotiate the return of Canadians in Guatemala with the country’s authorities, and develop a contingency plan, among other demands.

In an emailed statement, the department did not address the letter or the women’s case, but said the embassy in Guatemala is up and running.

“Our embassy in Guatemala continues to operate, and consular services continue to be provided to Canadians,” wrote spokesperson Krystyna Dodds.

“We are doing everything in our power to bring the largest number of Canadians home as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, it will not be possible to ensure the return of all Canadians who wish to come home.”

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The federal government has set up an emergency loan program for Canadians stranded abroad, and is encouraging anyone in need of consular assistance to email or call its Ottawa response centre at +1 613 996 8885.

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