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Stories from the worldwide repatriation operation

Crisis Response Centre at the Federal Foreign Office on 1 April 2020

Crisis Response Centre at the Federal Foreign Office on 1 April 2020, © Thomas Koehler/photothek.de

06.05.2020 - Article

Colleagues from Germany and around the world, as well as a traveller, tell us of their experiences during the repatriation operation.

The repatriation operation required an extraordinary effort on the part of the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin and of our missions across the globe. Although patience was needed in some cases due to the difficult circumstances, eventually around 240,000 people were able to return to Germany. Team Peru at the Crisis Response Centre in Berlin kicked the operation off.

Team Peru in Berlin

Thomas is an assistant desk officer in the protocol division responsible for international conferences, multilateral events and summit meetings. As part of her training as an assistant desk officer, Sara is doing an internship in the division responsible for travel abroad by the Federal President, the Federal Chancellor and the Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Thomas and Sara in the Crisis Response Centre
Thomas and Sara in the Crisis Response Centre© Auswärtiges Amt

“We transferred to the Crisis Response Centre for the repatriation operation: Thomas was responsible for Peru, Costa Rica and Paraguay and initially also Mexico and South Africa. Sara joined Team Peru and was also involved in the repatriation operation for New Zealand.

When the last planes took off, we were quite relieved and, at the same time, really exhausted: a repatriation flight is more complicated to organise than you think and impossible without take‑off and landing permissions. In Peru, the operation was very slow to get off the ground, and, of course, that was especially nerve-wracking for the travellers. The Peruvian Government closed its land and air borders very early on and issued take‑off and landing permissions very restrictively. It took a lot of persuasion on our part. The support we received from our colleagues at the German Embassy in Lima was really excellent. To make things more complicated, the German airlines with their large aircraft were unable to land at smaller airports in Peru, such as Cusco and Iquitos. We therefore had to set up shuttle links via Lima and Santiago.

At the peak of the repatriation operation, our telephone team of six colleagues in Berlin and four in Peru phoned the stranded tourists one after the other. Many of them thanked us for the personal assistance. We adapted our sleep patterns to Peruvian time in order to be able to work as closely as possible with our colleagues in Lima and the consular team in Cusco. This made our work much easier, but also resulted in a considerable sleep deficit.

What was new for both of us was the close cooperation with airlines and, of course, the chartering of aircraft. We both already knew from our work in Protocol how to put together passenger lists. However, ”ordering“ such a flight, considering all the transfer situations and getting the right authorisations via the Embassy in Lima was a completely new experience. And we can now place any airport in Peru on a map with our eyes closed.

We won’t forget a family of four which had four emotional support dogs with them, all of which were able to leave with the family. Whether animals are allowed to travel with their owners is ultimately up to the airline. We were therefore all the more pleased that the dogs were allowed to fly.

We were both impressed by the close cooperation here in the Crisis Response Centre in Berlin. None of us had ever done anything like this before, partly because this was the very first operation of this kind. We all did the best we could to help and support each other. The cooperation with the colleagues at the missions abroad was a good experience, particularly with the consular team in Cusco in southern Peru.

We counted all the travellers we were able to help and worked out that we had brought back a total of around 3500 travellers on twelve flights from Peru, 2065 on eight flights from Costa Rica and 335 persons on one flight from Paraguay. Being part of this operation and being able to assist these people was a great experience for both of us.”

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