A Toronto woman is calling on the Canadian government to bring her ailing father home from Somalia, a country already ravaged by civil war, floods and famine that is now also struggling to cope with an outbreak of COVID-19.
Hawa Mire, 33, who is active in the city’s Somali-Canadian community, is desperately worried about Yahia Mire, 60, who has diabetes and heart disease. He travelled to Somalia two months ago, before it went into lockdown to battle the novel coronavirus.
“Like many Canadians, my dad went on vacation. He was very excited about it. He wanted to visit some family members and got stranded,” Mire told CBC Toronto.
Since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Somalia just over a month ago, the country is now reporting hundreds of new cases and dozens of deaths. But because the Somalis have to send samples to South Africa for testing and wait for results, the spread is likely worse than the numbers suggest.
“It really just doesn’t have the health infrastructure to manage the situation that’s happening right now and the numbers are low because the testing isn’t happening,” said Mire.
According to Global Affairs Canada, 323 citizens in Somalia have signed up with Registration of Canadians Abroad, a free service that allows the federal government to notify Canadians in case of an emergency abroad or a personal emergency at home. The service also gives them important information before or during a natural disaster or civil unrest.
But Global Affairs hasn’t said how many Canadians in Somalia have expressed a desire for repatriation amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
This is just the latest challenge for the economically fragile east African nation, which has been trying to recover from decades of civil war, and is now battling flooding and the threat of famine, in addition to repeated attacks by the armed jihadist group, Al Shabaab.
Somali Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre recently made a plea to countries friendly to Somalia for financial assistance to fight COVID-19.
“Tragically, we are also forced to face and deal with floods — locusts are also threatening our farmers,” said Khayre in a statement posted to Twitter.
Meanwhile, Mire says this shortage of medical supplies and facilities to take care of a growing number of COVID-19 patients makes her desperate to get her father home.
“He’s a diabetic, he’s on a particular heart medication and we’re worried about him not only running out of that medication, but if he were to get sick, where would he go to seek the appropriate medical care?”
In a statement to CBC Toronto, Global Affairs Canada says it is aware of Canadian citizens in Somalia who wish to return to Canada and are unable to leave the country.
“The Government of Canada continues to work with airlines and foreign governments to facilitate flights to Canada from locations with few international flights or with restrictions on travel,” Global Affairs spokesperson Sylvain Leclerc wrote.
But Leclerc said the federal government has to consider several factors, including the number of Canadians who want to leave and airspace closures, to identify the departure points for any repatriation flights.
“Unfortunately, it will not be possible to ensure the return of all Canadians who wish to come home. Canadians unable to return to Canada should monitor local media and follow local public health advice on lock-downs or shelter-in-place orders.”
But Mire says that’s of little help to her father.
“Not all of us have the same ability to hunker down, and my dad, who’s in his 60s, [is] at risk of contracting the disease, possibly fatally, without the right kind of health infrastructure and support in place without the family.”
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Senior Reporter, CBC Toronto