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Maritimers celebrate safe return home after risk-filled journey from Guatemala

Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence workers (left to right) Indigo Christ, Laura Robinson and Lenora Yarike arrive at Pearson International Airport on March 23, 2020.
Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence workers (left to right) Indigo Christ, Laura Robinson and Lenora Yarike arrive at Pearson International Airport on March 23, 2020. Courtesy: Maritimes-Guatemala BTS

Two Maritimers and one Albertan have finally returned to Canada, after spending more than a week stranded in Guatemala in the midst of a pandemic.

Indigo Christ of Halifax, Laura Robinson of Rothsay, N.B. and Lenora Yarkie of Edmonton arrived in Toronto on Monday, days after Global News reported their calls for government assistance.

When their calls went unanswered, they took matters into their own hands — opting to enter Mexico by land and obtain a flight to Canada from there.

“We went back and forth a lot, and ultimately felt like we were having to choose between the safest option and the most timely option,” Christ told Global News.

“There were countless opportunities for something to go wrong.”

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

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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With help from the organization, they hired a driver on March 22 to take them to the Mexican border, where they crossed as tourists on foot, before taking a handful of flights to get to Cancun.

From the vacation hot spot, they were able to fly directly to Toronto, and their respective provinces. They’re now in self-isolation for 14 days.

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“It was a long journey, but ultimately I think it was the best choice for us,” said Christ. “All of us are just so grateful that the plan went as I hope it would and we were able to get home.”

A day after the women arrived in Canada, another Maritimes-Guatemala BTS staffer — Lisa Rankin of Mabou, N.S. — was also able to get to Canada from Guatemala without consular support, using a similar route.

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. Courtesy: Laura Robinson
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. Courtesy: Laura Robinson Laura Robinson/Submitted

READ MORE: Travellers coming back to Canada now mandated to self-isolate, feds say

The federal government is in the midst of arranging flights home for Canadians stranded in countries all over the world, but has made it clear that it won’t be able to help everyone.

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Christ, Robinson and Yarkie said they were unable to reach anyone at the Canadian embassy in Guatemala throughout last week, despite claims from Global Affairs Canada that the embassy is operational.

Late on Monday — after the three women had left for Mexico — the embassy tweeted that the federal government was arranging a direct flight to Canada from Guatemala City on March 27.

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The Guatemalan government shut down its borders on March 16, but is allowing tourists to leave the country and return home.

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Christ said she’s worried not everyone who’s still in Guatemala will make it onto the March 27 flight, and will be stuck without options for getting home.

“(Being home) feels a bit surreal, it’s definitely bittersweet,” she explained. “I’m also mindful that there’s still 2,000 Canadians who are still in Guatemala, who don’t feel comfortable taking on all the risks we took in getting home.”

In a phone interview, Maritimes-Guatemala BTS co-ordinator Stacey Gomez said the organization still has one staffer left in Guatemala City, and it will try to get that person on the Friday flight to Canada.