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Many in limbo as tension heightens

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Passengers are waiting to leave Cambodia at Phnom Penh International Airport on Sunday. German Embassy

Many in limbo as tension heightens

As the Kingdom restricts travel and prepares for a state of emergency, some foreigners in Cambodia are scrambling for a way home.

Foreign embassies in Phnom Penh are making efforts to get their citizens out, but cancelled flights have become common due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The German Embassy said on Tuesday that Germany operated two final repatriation flights on March 29 with a total of 446 passengers.

The passenger list included 302 Germans, 34 Belgians, 21 Romanians, EU citizens, and foreigners with permanent residency in Germany.

On Monday, Minister of Tourism Thong Khon said US Ambassador to Cambodia Patrick Murphy reached out to him to discuss the plight of US citizens stranded in the Kingdom. Murphy requested leniency in cases where US citizens’ visas may expire soon, Khon said.

According to Khon, Murphy also sought clarity from the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and the government.

US Embassy spokesperson Emily Zeeberg said on Tuesday that the State Department had informed their citizens to avoid international travel during the Covid-19 pandemic.

She said the department recommended US citizens fly home using commercial airlines because evacuation flights were not available.

The British Embassy said some 250 British citizens are currently stranded in Cambodia, and that flights leaving Phnom Penh have commonly been cancelled on short notice.

British Embassy spokesperson Sokanha Vuthy said relying on future flights is risky.

“We have been urging the airlines to add capacity to their existing routes, something that Qatar Airways has done both last night and on tonight’s flight, and to keep routes open.

“However, airlines are commercial businesses, and if they have no inbound travelers [due to the new entry restrictions in Cambodia], they will judge that they are unable to fly the route,” she said.

She said the embassy now is working with local airlines to persuade them to arrange special flights in order to get British citizens home.

“We have also asked the immigration department to introduce automatic extension of visas, as many travellers are concerned about overstaying due to flight cancellations,” she said.

A group of stranded British citizens started an online petition on Tuesday called “STATE OF EMERGENCY! Get UK citizens on repatriation list!”

“People here feel abandoned. Friends and family at home are worried to death. Travellers are low on funds for food and accommodation. Hotels, markets and restaurants are closing all around us,” the petition said.

The British Embassy Facebook page said on Monday that Cambodia was not prioritised for repatriation flights because of the relatively low number of British citizens in the Kingdom.

Ministry of Tourism spokesperson Top Sopheak said the ministry is not aware of how many foreigners were stranded in the Kingdom. He said the ministry would help advise them if they faced any problems.

Ministry of Interior spokesperson Phat Sophanit said its General Department of Immigration had already asked Minister Sar Kheng how to deal with stranded tourists.

While foreigners try to figure out their next move, Cambodia is well on its way to passing a law in order to declare a state of emergency.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Tuesday that he led a high-level meeting to review the draft law before it is expected to be passed by the Council of Ministers on Friday.

This comes after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation announced an inbound travel restriction last week which took effect at midnight on Monday.

The measure included the suspension of the visa exemption policy for one month, imposition of a health certificate confirming incoming passengers aren’t infected by Covid-19, and quarantines for all foreigners.

On Tuesday, the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) reminded local and foreign airlines as well as commercial private jet operators in Cambodia about the restriction.

The SSCA added that all air operators are not allowed to carry passengers with confirmed positive tests of Covid-19 into Cambodia.

“If there is a case, it is the responsibility of the air operator to take the passengers back to their original destination,” the SSCA warned, adding that the restriction shall not apply to air operators’ crews.

On the coronavirus front, Cambodia reported two more Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing the total to 109 – 30 women and 79 men.

The two new cases were a 39-year-old woman and her 12-year-old son in Siem Reap province. Both had contracted the disease from the woman’s husband, who had returned from a Muslim religious gathering in Malaysia.

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