Japanese volunteers “stranded” in Samoa

Japan’s 16 volunteers in Samoa are scheduled to go home because of the coronavirus pandemic but may be stuck on island due to international border closures.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (J.I.C.A.) this week decided to repatriate its volunteers, but is bumping up against increasingly severe travel restrictions.

Resident Representative, Akihiko Hoshino, said the 16 volunteers are scheduled to travel to Japan through Auckland on Monday. 

But New Zealand has restricted travel only to New Zealand citizens and permanent residents until at least early April.

Mr. Hoshino said J.I.C.A. is looking for alternative flights back to Japan but they are encountering difficulty. 

“Our volunteers are stranded in Samoa,” he told the Samoa Observer in an email.

“If they cannot fly, they just continue to stay here but they cannot do the service because all schools or other organisations are closed under the state of emergency.”

Under these circumstances, Mr. Hoshino does not know when the volunteers will return to Japan. 

Three of the 16 volunteers are based in Savaii, but are being returned to Upolu this weekend to standby for travel. 

Exceptions to New Zealand’s travel restrictions can be made on a “case-by-case basis” by Immigration New Zealand for humanitarian reasons, health and other essential workers, citizens of Samoa and Tonga for essential travel to New Zealand and visitor visa holders who are the partners or dependents of temporary work or student visa holders.

Last week, the entire contingent of the United States Peace Corps volunteers were evacuated from Samoa. Projects Abroad, Volunteer Services Abroad and Australian Volunteers for International Development are in the process of sending the majority of their Samoa based volunteers home too.

New volunteers from abroad have largely been suspended and it is not clear whether any evacuated volunteers will be returned to Samoa. 

Samoa’s J.I.C.A. volunteers work in a range of areas, from primary school teaching to veterinary services, nutrition, soccer coaching and dentistry. 

J.I.C.A. was founded in 1974 and this year has a budget of ¥1.478 billion (T$38.3 million). 

It is the official development assistance arm of the Japanese Government and works in developing countries on social and economic growth.

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