An Abbotsford family says they feel abandoned by the federal government after being stranded in Vietnam due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stephen and Leilani Janzen and their three children have been trying to get back to Canada for the last couple of weeks but all their flights have been cancelled and they have been unable to reach Global Affairs Canada despite repeated daily attempts.
Stephen said the process has left the family stressed and frustrated. He is critical of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s affirmations that the government will do its best to bring Canadians home.
“He is a man of pretty words, but of little action .. He has left us stranded with no help,” Stephen said.
The family began what was supposed to be a dream six-month vacation in Southeast Asia in November.
Stephen is a bus driver with Coast Mountain Bus Company, and the family’s three kids – Keanan, 9, Keona, 8, and Mekaiah, 6 – are home-schooled.
Their trip began in the Philippines – where Leilani’s dad lives – and then proceeded to Thailand and Malaysia.
They arrived in Vietnam on Feb. 5, and were scheduled to head back to the Philippines and fly from Manila to Vancouver on April 20.
When they initially heard reports about the pandemic, Stephen said they weren’t too worried. He said Vietnam has handled the crisis well – there have been few cases and no deaths – and the family did not initially feel that there was a rush to get home.
But as the virus spread around the world, the Philippines prohibited flights in and out of the country, leaving the Janzens to have to change their plans to leave from Manila.
On March 14, they booked a flight home from Hanoi, Vietnam on March 24. (It was the first available flight they could find that was within their budget.)
Five days after they made these arrangements, the federal government urged all Canadians to return home as soon as possible.
The Janzens were then able to fly from Da Nang to Hanoi on March 23, with plans of returning home on their pre-scheduled flight the next day, but that, too, was cancelled.
They have been trying to get through to Global Affairs Canada ever since, but they receive repeated messages that the lines are full or their calls are disconnected.
Any of the limited flights that had been available were at exorbitant costs – a minimum of $3,200 per person, compared to around $700 before the pandemic – but now there are no flights at all.
Stephen said he is frustrated because he sees Vietnamese nationals being brought home by their government, while the Janzens and other Canadians across the globe are left waiting.
The Janzens have been in contact with a travel agent, who told them nothing could be done at this point and to not call back until after April 7.
Meanwhile, they are staying in a rooming house that has a bathroom and one bedroom with bunk beds for the family, and a shared kitchen. But Stephen said the worst part is not knowing what to expect next.
“That kind of uncertainty is the biggest stress for my wife and I. We’re trying to stay calm for the kids,” he said.
The Janzens have been in contact with the office of Abbotsford MP Ed Fast.
Fast’s executive assistant, Mike Murray, said their office has deal with about 20 Abbotsford residents who are, or were, trapped in countries such as Peru, Honduras, India and Australia.
He said those individuals have been directed to immediately register with Global Affairs Canada and to email the consulate of the country they are in and copy in their constituent.
Murray said they are also encouraged to keep in touch with their airlines and/or travel agent.
“Global Affairs is working around the clock to arrange repatriation for stranded Canadians. I know it’s very difficult because the process takes time,” he said.
The prime minister stated on Monday that more than one million Canadians and permanent residents had returned home last week. But he also said that not all Canadians stuck abroad will be able to come home.
“It is just realistic to know that some of them will not be coming home in the coming weeks,” Trudeau said.
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Vikki Hopes | Reporter
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