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'We're just so grateful': 100 Irish citizens land back in Dublin after repatriation flight from Peru

Breandán from Co Cork said that it was a “surreal” experience having a Peruvian escort to the airport to catch the flight home.

Updated Mar 30th 2020, 7:48 PM

THE IRISH LEG of a repatriation flight from Peru carrying more than 100 Irish citizens landed this afternoon. 

Irish citizens who were visiting the country became stranded in Peru after it announced it would shut all air, land and sea borders.

The announcement was made with very little notice almost two weeks ago, leaving tourists with virtually no time to fly out. The lockdown in Peru is very strict and enforced by police, with a nighttime curfew in place.

Breandán from Co Cork said that it was an anxious wait to see if the Irish government could organise a flight home through the Peruvian government’s restrictions; he said that after a case of coronavirus was confirmed in a hostel, they locked it down, compounding their worries that the longer they waited, the harder it would be to leave.

He has spent the past two weeks all day in his hostel room, where they could only leave to go to a supermarket or a pharmacy. “But you were pretty much questioned by police or an army official: Where are you going, where is your hostel, where’s the supermarket, do you need to be here?” 

“So when the news finally came through that the permission was granted, there was just so much relief from everyone,” he said. 

Following a call between Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and the Peruvian Foreign Minister Néstor Bardales, diplomatic clearance was given for a repatriation flight.

The Department of Foreign Affairs arranged a charter flight from Lima, Peru to London with British Airways; Aer Lingus agreed to the second leg from London to Dublin.

Simon Coveney confirmed last night that the repatriation flight took off out of Lima, with more than 100 Irish people and their families on board.

Breandán said that the Irish citizens signed a waiver to pay €400 at some stage, and were then escorted to a military base where they were lined up before sniffer dogs.

It was just a surreal experience just to be surrounded by all the military aircrafts and military tanks and everything. It was crazy.

“And then once everyone was on the plane, it was a sense of happiness, or relief, or just the mix of everything because people were so tired.”

When we arrived in Heathrow everyone was really happy, clapping and cheering. And then our flight to Dublin from Heathrow it was completely different. When we were landing, the air hostesses had to wake people who were asleep – people had been awake for two or three days.

Their families couldn’t meet them at Dublin Airport either, because of restrictions here.

He says that he thought his mother wasn’t worried, but his father told him when he landed back in Ireland that he was, and she had been putting on a brave face for him. 

Breandán is now on another type of lockdown in Dublin, where he’s staying during his 14-day quarantine necessary for those who have returned to Ireland from abroad.

Breandán said he had a lot of time to think during his two-weeks in quarantine in Peru. When asked for some of those thoughts, he said:

“From the Peruvian government’s side, we respect the decision they made and the drastic actions they took to predict their country. We just couldn’t really understand why they kept us in there.”

“And our government and the Irish embassy in Santiago in Chile, Ambassador Paul Gleeson and all the staff there, they were, honestly, it was so so helpful. They did everything for us, they updated us…

“Compared to other countries, they’re just getting nothing off their governments, they’re still [in Peru] and they don’t know anything. And so we’re really grateful to the embassy to the Irish government, as well as the media for getting our story out there.”

Other Irish citizens

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said work continues to get all remaining citizens home.

Around 25 other Irish citizens flew out of Lima earlier today, meaning over 130 Irish citizens and their family have been evacuated in total, according to Ireland’s Embassador to Chile, Paul Gleeson.

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He added that there were “a few we couldn’t bring – mainly because of quarantine restrictions or because they’re in parts of Peru not reachable by road – and assisting them will be focus of the Embassy of Ireland in Chile in the coming days”.

“Thanks to everyone for their patience,” Coveney said. “Pleased to also help people from 13 other EU countries, including urgent priority repatriations”.

There are around 2,000 Irish citizens stranded in 86 countries across the world, as countries close their borders and airlines ground their flights.

- with reporting from Michelle Hennessy

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