FSM Information Services Press Release
FSM Citizens Stranded in the Republic of the Marshall Islands to Return on October 30th; President Panuelo Discusses Potential Operation Christmas Drop Repatriation with Stranded Medical Patients
PALIKIR, Pohnpei—On October 27th, 2020, the Government of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) completed the last of its technical requirements to initiate repatriation of the Nation’s citizens from COVID-19 free jurisdictions. The FSM States of Pohnpei and Kosrae will be accepting citizens stranded in the Republic of the Marshall Islands on October 30th, 2020.
Only FSM citizens will be repatriated on the flight, which is chartered through Air Marshall Islands. All citizens will be tested for COVID-19 prior to arrival, and will submit themselves to standardized quarantine procedures in Pohnpei and Kosrae, to include additional COVID-19 testing prior to entry into the community.
At the same time that the Government was finalizing the remaining details on the repatriation effort from the Marshall Islands, His Excellency David W. Panuelo, President of the FSM, spoke for approximately three hours in a teleconference with the Nation’s stranded MiCare medical patients. The purpose of the teleconference was to give the stranded citizens the opportunity to hear from the President himself as to what the Nation is doing to assist the FSM’s stranded citizens.
While the President’s answers were broadly consistent with the information relayed to the public from the Office of the President’s Division of Public Information and the FSM COVID-19 Task Force’s Risk Communications team, such as that the twelve medical patients alone have received four hundred and seventy thousand dollars ($470,000) in aggregate through per diems and other MiCare assistance, new information that President Panuelo announced is that the Nation is seriously looking into cooperating with the United States to conduct a humanitarian assistance flight on or around the time of Operation Christmas Drop (i.e. approximately sometime in early December).
“We’re working with the U.S. to see the possibility of chartering a U.S. military aircraft, to see if it can coincide with the schedule of Operation Christmas Drop. I will ask that the U.S. cooperate with our parameters, such as that the crew is tested for COVID-19 and follow exemplary decontamination procedures. Medical patients, the two FSM Congress Senators, and diplomats from the United States, Japan, and Australia, would still undergo the Pre-Quarantine procedures at [a designated facility] for fourteen days, including COVID-19 testing several times, and then possibly arrive sometime in December.”
“Because of the rapidly evolving situation with COVID-19, I am not promising that this will happen,” the President continued, “But I want you to know that we are seriously exploring this. I appreciate that you want to be home before Christmas, and while I regret that I cannot promise that because I must protect the FSM from the virus, we do care about our citizens stranded abroad.”
The President noted that he has requested that the new MiCare Administrator work with the MiCare Board to recommend options to expand MiCare coverage beyond $50,000 per annum, particularly for individuals who are receiving MiCare benefits due to being stranded abroad. President Panuelo also noted that stranded citizens are eligible to apply for the Stranded Citizens relief funding, and that he recently approved 81 MiCare self-referral patients and 19 families attending funerals abroad (funerals are a sacred Micronesian tradition) for this relief, even though they otherwise would not have qualified for the assistance.
Many of the stranded medical patients relayed their personal experiences and questions to the President over the three-hour teleconference. One patient, whom the Division of Public Information has received permission to share their statements, said the following: “Mr. President, I have cervical cancer…if it were up to me I wouldn’t have traveled during the COVID-19 Pandemic, but I had no choice. I traveled to the Philippines in February and underwent a medical procedure there, and afterwards me and my mom came back to Guam and we were stranded. …My mom and I are the main breadwinners of our family, and it’s an issue…they need us to go home. We understand the risks; we are doing our due diligence, doing social distancing, only leaving our hotel room for groceries. I’m sorry if I sound selfish—but I’ve been silent for so long because we all understand that, especially with social media, the moment that we say that we want to come home people will lash out and say that we’re selfish. We understand the difficulties you are facing…but we want to come home. I trust in you and our Task Force that you’re doing your due diligence as well.”
“These past months have been so hard,” the patient continued. “There are rumors here and there, and at the same time it seems like nobody wants us to come home…. We have hopes in our leaders that hopefully, maybe soon, we can see our loved homes at home. Thank you.” “[Redacted First Name], President Panuelo said, “I am sorry for what you are all going through, and the heavy burden that you are carrying as breadwinners of your family. …I want to assure you that, every day, I am briefed by the Task Force. Many of us have trouble sleeping because our families are trapped abroad, too, and it’s scary when you see a big country like the United States, with its strong healthcare system, have more than twice our Nation’s population succumb to the virus.”
“Pohnpei will be the first for repatriation because it’s the most ready,” the President said. “We haven’t publicized repatriation dates because I have a duty to protect the country, and so I demand an absolutely airtight repatriation regime. I hope you can appreciate that we are making decisions to be careful but—the charter I am working with the United States on, again, I cannot promise what will happen, because every piece of information will be taken into consideration before a decision is made with the option of repatriation, but I am committed to helping you all get back home. Every day I pass by [Redacted Separate Patient’s Name’s] home, and it reminds me that they are one of the stranded citizens. [Redacted First Name], you apologize about coming across as arrogant or selfish: please be assured that you are not selfish or arrogant for wanting to be home with your family that you are responsible for. We understand the emotional toll you are going through, and it is real, and it is hard. Your feelings are real and important, and I personally recognize their validity. Your feelings matter, your experiences matter, and your family matters. You matter. I sincerely appreciate your patience and perseverance in this time. I will do all that I can to get you home, safely, as soon as is possible.”
“There is no small voice,” the President continued, “Your voices are loud, clear, and important for leadership to hear. You are our citizens. We work for you. As your President, I am personally accountable to you. Your problems are my problems. We listen to each of you with attentive care so that we can keep it in the background while we are working with the efforts that we’re doing to bring you back.”
After the meeting, the President instructed the Department of Foreign Affairs to formally follow-up on the Nation’s interest in chartering an Operation Christmas Drop humanitarian flight to repatriate stranded medical patients, the two Senators in the 21st FSM Congress stranded abroad, diplomats, and citizens overall. The President further instructed the Task Force to conduct an assessment of Yap State’s repatriation capacity as soon as Caroline Islands Air was able to conduct Y-12 flights from Pohnpei State to Yap State, so that the Nation can repatriate FSM citizens stranded in the Republic of Palau. The Government is not yet able to confirm dates for these repatriation events, but they remain priorities for the near future.