Quarantined Samoans say money, phones confiscated

Eight Samoans, who were denied entry into the country and turned back to Fiji on Sunday, had their phones and wallets confiscated after arriving in Nadi, the group has said in a phone call to the Ministry of Health.

The group were returning from receiving medical treatment in India but were denied entry because they had transited through Singapore as part of coronavirus quarantine measures.

The Director General of the Ministry of Health, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, made a video call to the patients via a Fijian liaison officer after learning the patients had their personal belongings taken by officials, according to a Government statement. 

The group's liaison point is Yogendra Sharma, the Business Executive of Apollo Hospitals, where they had been receiving treatment in India as part of the Government's medical referral scheme. In the call, he told Leausa he was prepared to take any means to help the group including buying them another phone and sim card to be able to communicate with Samoa.

“It’s sad, really sad,” he said of the alleged confiscation.

In a record of the video call shared to the Government of Samoa Facebook page, Leausa advises Mr. Sharma to give any new phone to a trusted member of staff, lest officials confiscate the replacement, too. 

He asked Mr. Sharma to buy the group some food, “especially taro, banana and some meat.”

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“My staff in Nadi will come and see them and look after them and do whatever they need,” Mr. Sharma told Leausa.

 The Government of Samoa said it is trying to get answers from the Government of Fiji as to why their citizens had belongings confiscated.

An email to the Permanent Secretary of Immigration, Yogesh Karan, was not responded to by press time. His personal assistant told the Samoa Observer over the phone that Mr. Karan is not in Fiji, and will return on Monday. 

In the call, Leausa said the families of the eight people in quarantine were gathering at the Ministry of Health on Friday to meet him.

The group in Nadi told Leausa they were being taken care of by Mr. Sharma.

Five of the group were Samoans sick with cancer who had traveled along with three caregivers to India for medical treatment. As they headed home they went through Singapore and Nadi before landing in Faleolo only to be sent back to their last port.

The deportation is Ministry of Health policy for protections against the novel coronavirus. Any traveler who has been through a country with proven sustained transmission of the virus must self quarantine in a country with no such transmission and be cleared by a medical professional three days before travelling back to Samoa in order to return.

The list of those countries is under daily review. As of February 13, they are: China, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Japan and Thailand.

* Additional reporting by Marc Membrere

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