Criticism as some reject repatriation flight
Ljubljana/Warsaw, 20 March - Poland assisted Slovenia in evacuating citizens stranded abroad due to air traffic cancellations and restrictions by providing 19 seats on a flight from the Canary Islands to Warsaw on Thursday night, however seven Slovenians decided to "wait for a better option" and did not board the flight.
Andrej Šter, the head of the Foreign Ministry's consular service, criticised the conduct and warned that the window for returning to Europe or Slovenia was closing rapidly.
In the wake of travel restrictions and border shutdowns caused by the coronavirus epidemic, the consular service is making efforts to help as many Slovenians as possible, said Šter, adding that rejecting proposed assistance showed that not everybody was aware of the seriousness of the situation.
On Thursday, 14 Slovenians returned home from the Canary Islands via Prague. The Foreign Ministry presumed that some 10 or 15 were still left behind, but the figure transpired to be much higher - around 80.
"Last night, we brought a group of Slovenians to Warsaw on a special flight in cooperation with Poland (...). We were offered 19 available seats after the Poles boarded their own. We assured them that we would definitely make use of all of them. Our embassy in Madrid started contacting the Slovenians there. We filled out 12 seats. Seven were left empty," said Šter.
He deems the decision of those who had dismissed the opportunity "a catastrophic gesture including for our future cooperation with Poland". The Slovenians who decided to stay behind did that in the last minute, thus it was too late for Poland to repatriate any other citizens in need of help, added Šter.
He also warned that Europeans stranded around the world in the midst of the coronavirus crisis were becoming unwelcome there and were even requested to leave by the end of this week in some countries, most notably in South America.
"In these circumstances I do not understand people who are still going on vacations to the Maldives or Cancún or a central Asian country," he said. "We should help Slovenian citizens in distress but we're disgusted when they do not want to leave this state of distress and when that besmirches the reputation of Slovenia in the eyes of the countries that are willing to lend a hand," Šter told the STA.
He urged all Slovenians still stuck in foreign countries to take the situation seriously and accept one of the last chances to return.
The Slovenians who did board the Polish emergency plane then travelled from Warsaw to Ljubljana on a flight which landed in Slovenia around 11.30am.
Meanwhile, the repatriation of Slovenian citizens stranded in Serbia is going as planned - a bus carrying 16 Slovenians and a Slovak is expected to reach the Slovenian border in the afternoon. Serbian citizens who had been stuck in Slovenia returned to Belgrade on the same bus first.
Šter suggested that a similar repatriation exchange could be coordinated with Montenegro. He also listed the airports that were still operating - the ones in Zagreb, Vienna, Sarajevo and Istanbul - which could serve as nexus links to the homeland.
On the other hand, the ministry advises against returning via Spain since the country is quickly becoming the second biggest hotspot in Europe after Italy.