​In limbo: Long wait for flights home continues for Vietnamese stranded abroad

By Viet Anh   April 19, 2021 | 04:42 pm PT
Vietnamese stuck in various countries due to Covid-19 have no choice but be patient as they await repatriation by the government.

"I planned to return to Vietnam in March 2020 after my graduation, but I haven't made it," La Hoang Chau, 31, a Ph.D. student in South Korea, told VnExpress International.

His flight to Vietnam was canceled as the pandemic began to spread around the world.

Chau lives in Gunpo city in a rented house while waiting for a flight.

With the visa he has, he is not allowed to work, and so is dependent on his family for financial support.

"I am an economic burden to my family. It's my biggest difficulty."

He has been sending an email to the Vietnamese embassy in Seoul every month to register for a repatriation flight, but he has never made the list.

He is by no means the only one in limbo.

Some of his countrymen are now struggling because their labor contracts have expired. They have to deal with the host country's regulations for seasonal jobs which change weekly.

"Some people have to work illegally for a living and save money for plane tickets," Chau says.

Vietnamese board a repatriation flight by Vietnam Airlines from San Francisco, June 8, 2020. Photo courtesy of Vietnam Airlines.

Vietnamese board a repatriation flight by Vietnam Airlines from San Francisco, June 8, 2020. Photo courtesy of Vietnam Airlines.

Pham Lan, a saleswoman at a retail company in Singapore, said her contract was scheduled to end in early 2020, and she had planned to return to Ho Chi Minh City. But, unable to travel, she had to ask the company for an extension.

She has been living in a rented house she shares with a Vietnamese friend, chatting online regularly with her husband who is in HCMC. She has twice sent a request to the Vietnamese embassy to be repatriated, but has not received a response.

She said she is lucky to have a job while waiting to return home.

In Canada, Ho Anh said her situation is tricky. She wants to return to Vietnam because she and her Canadian husband broke up last December. But she is now having to get financial assistance from her ex since she has no relatives in Canada.

"I cannot get a job since I have a tourist visa."

Like Lan in Singapore, she has tried several times to contact the Vietnamese embassy and consulate to ask about repatriation flights, but has not heard back either.

Trieu Quynh Huong, a student in Germany, did not describe herself as "being stuck" because she has only been waiting for a flight to Hanoi since January 2021 after graduating.

Nonetheless, she faces similar problems as most of her compatriots: not being able to apply for a full-time job.

Trieu Quynh is in Hamburg, Germany, April 2021. Photo courtesy of Huong Trieu.

Trieu Quynh Huong is in Hamburg, Germany, April 2021. Photo courtesy of Huong Trieu.

She has had to move out of the school dormitory to live in an acquaintance's house, and has difficulty with expiring visas when she does not have equitable reason for staying and independent financial resource.

She had checked the chance of returning to Vietnam for people who have labor contracts in Vietnam, but she was ineligible with a Vietnamese passport.

Registering for a flight at the Vietnamese consulate in Frankfurt, which provides assistance for Vietnamese people in that area, seemed the best choice.

Exorbitant prices

Vietnam closed it borders in March 2020 due to Covid-19 and has only allowed in foreign diplomats, specialists and investors. Special flights have been organized to repatriate Vietnamese citizens, but the list is limited.

Around 75,000 citizens stranded overseas were brought home on repatriation flights last year.

Those not selected for the flights have often been approached by unscrupulous elements and offered tickets at exorbitant prices.

During her one year in Singapore, Lan tried to find different ways to return to Vietnam.

One time she chatted online with a Vietnamese woman, asking about a plane ticket and was asked to transfer $2,500.

But when that woman could not tell her about the exact flight schedule, she decided against dealing with her. Her mother in the U.S. was offered a seat on a flight for $22,000, she said.

"I was almost fooled."

She became reconciled to the fact that she had to wait, and now checks her emails regularly to see if she finally got a seat on a government flight. She scrupulously follows local regulations like wearing a mask and keeping a distance from other people in public spaces.

Anh in Canada said she was asked to pay around $7,000 for a business class ticket to Vietnam by a group on a social media network. She felt it was dubious and turned it down.

"I check the Vietnamese embassy website every week. It has been five months now."

In a rare case that one got to come close to Vientam, Tran Thi Hoa flew into Cambodia from France on a commercial flight in early April. She had gone to Paris in January to visit her son, who is studying there. She paid $4,500 for the ticket and business visa, plus $2,000 for testing and quarantining in Cambodia.

She once lost her passport in France even as she was trying to catch a flight to Vietnam. She knew there were a lot of others looking to return to Vietnam after joining various groups on Facebook.

She did not want to stay in France, scared as she was by locals’ apathy toward the pandemic and vaccine.

Cambodia is in lockdown, but Hoa expects the Cambodian government to reconsider the situation next week.

"Then I hope I can enter Vietnam through the border."

In South Korea, Chau found that charter flights, which resumed recently, would cost him around $2,000 but their schedules are not certain. For that reason, he chooses to register for a repatriation flight every month at the Vietnamese embassy.

He is worried about the pandemic after the number of new cases in that country increased from 400 a day to 600 in mid-April after people began to congregate at cherry blossom festival hotspots.

Chau does not go out often except to the supermarket. He has realized that wearing a mask and washing hands are essential measures while waiting to be vaccinated.

The vaccination campaign will get underway in September, and he has registered to get a shot.

"My career plans have been delayed due to my situation in South Korea. I am waiting for a call from the embassy but the waiting list is too long."

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