Meet the ‘forgotten Canadians’ stranded in remote corners of the world demanding help to get home


An Alberta woman is scared for her life in Peru as the death toll rises and the health-care system collapses around her. 

A 75-year-old pensioner from Nova Scotia is stranded alone on the top of a mountain in a tiny village in Central America, with no way out. 

A Montreal woman is living in a $7-a-day hotel room in the mountains of locked-down Nepal and told the local hospital ran out of necessities to help those with COVID-19. 

They are the outliers: the last 10 per cent of Canadians stranded abroad who want to come home during a deadly, worldwide pandemic. But the Canadian government may not be able to repatriate them all because of the complexity of their cases. 

“It’s a possible death sentence for a lot of Canadian citizens and residents in Peru,” Ana Nehring, the Alberta woman, told CBC News from Lima. “We need to be rescued. We need to get out of here.”

Ottawa is down to its final push to retrieve Canadians, with over 40,681 already repatriated from 107 countries on 378 flights since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

But the federal government said these last cases are often the most difficult and unusual. In some countries, there aren’t enough Canadians to send an entire plane. In others, repatriation flights are barred from entering. Instead, consular services is helping some citizens hunker down until countries reopen.

But some of those stranded say they are in precarious situations and want Canada to find a way to get them home quickly.

“We are working to help as many Canadians as possible return home, but some may remain outside the country for an indeterminate period,” Angela Savard, a spokesperson with Global Affairs, said in a statement to CBC News. 

Stuck in Peru: Ana Nehring, Lise Blais 

Nehring flew to Peru on March 3 to rush to her mother’s side after she suffered a stroke. She’s an only child and needed to find her mother a long-term care facility to live in. 

But two weeks later, Peru entered a lockdown that closed its borders to international travel. It’s been three months and Nehring is still stuck in Lima. 

She says the country is struggling to control its outbreak and all she wants to do is get home to St. Albert, Alta. 

Doctors and nurses attend to COVID-19 patients inside the intensive care unit at the Guillermo Almenara hospital in Lima on May 22. Despite strict measures to control the virus, this South American nation of 32 million has become one of the countries worst hit by the disease. (Rodrigo Abd/Associated Press)

According to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, Peru has more than 160,000 confirmed cases, tenth-most in the world, with more than 4,500 deaths.

“We need more help,” Nehring said. “I’m scared. We should not be here. The numbers are growing very rapidly….There are a lot of people dying.”

She tried to land a spot on one of Canada’s nine repatriation flights out, but all the seats were taken. Global Affairs told CBC News that it brought more than 2,650 citizens back to Canada on those planes. But it ended the efforts in mid-April because the Peruvian government stopped allowing repatriation flights into the country.

Checkpoints are set up in Lima, Peru, where dozens of Canadians say they are stuck waiting for flights out of the country. (Submitted by Ana Nehring)

Nehring wants the government to send a military aircraft to pick up a group of roughly 200 Canadians, according to a Facebook group’s tally, who want to leave Peru. She says the streets are filled with military and police. She’s haunted by seeing a dead body on the ground on the way to the grocery store, but can’t say for sure if it was related to COVID-19.

Lise Blais is also in Lima and worried about catching COVID-19 as the number of cases climb. She’s trying to get home to Montreal and says she’s been stuck inside the same four walls since March 16. Blais wants to get back home to her son and grandchildren. 

“Life is very difficult,” said Blais. I’m really scared to death.

“It’s so stressful. I’m losing my appetite. I don’t sleep well. It’s like a permanent nightmare. Living and waiting, it’s really terrible. Enough to make stomach ulcers.”

WATCH | Lise Blais, stranded in Peru, says, ‘The waiting is killing me’

Lise Blais says can’t eat or sleep because she’s stressed about catching COVID-19 and wants the Canadian government to help get her home to Montreal. 0:42

Stranded in Costa Rica: Maxine Bruce

Maxine Bruce is a 75-year-old Canadian snowbird stuck in Costa Rica. She’s been hauling her groceries two kilometres up a mountain, because she won’t get in a taxi due to the pandemic. She’s walking even further to try to scour the nearby village of Santa Maria de Dota for supplies and medications she’s run out of. 

Maxine Bruce is stuck in the mountains in Costa Rica after her Air Canada flight to Canada was cancelled during the pandemic. (CBC)

Bruce says she’s trying to get home to the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia to help her brother who has early onset dementia. But for some reason, she says, Global Affairs Canada thinks she’s in another Central American country. She says the government has been sending her a “wealth of information applicable to Panama.”

The Canadian government has been “useless,” she said.

“We’re the forgotten Canadians stranded in these places. Basically they said it was my choice to travel so it’s down to me to get myself out of this mess.”

Trying to get out of Ecuador: David Robinson

David Robinson was told the only flights out of Ecuador are through the U.S. Embassy, and they are expected to end soon. (Submitted by David Robinson)

David Robinson has spent the past year living on the ocean in Manta, Ecuador, as he had a medical procedure done to his foot. Now he wants to “get the hell out of Dodge,” but said Canada’s consular services told him the only way out is by a U.S.-chartered flight. Canada warned that even the American flights were ending soon. 

He’s upset he was told to contact the U.S. Embassy for help.

“It’s maddening,” he said. “It’s literally disgusting. I’ve been paying taxes since I’ve been 15 and this is what they’re doing to me now: saying ‘whatever.'”

Hunkering down in Nepal: Catherine Breton

Catherine Breton is in a small village in Nepal with other tourists also stranded abroad due to the pandemic. (Catherine Breton/Facebook)

Catherine Breton has hunkered down in a cheap hotel with a small group of German and British tourists who are also stranded. She’s in Bandipur, a small village in the mountains in Nepal about an hour walk from a main road or a 12-hour bus ride from the capital, Kathmandu. 

She was on a spiritual journey to study Buddhism when the pandemic hit. Breton said she couldn’t afford $4,000 for a spot on an earlier repatriation flight, so she waited thinking there would be other options. She learned the hard way that there aren’t. 

“I’m getting scared,” she said. “There’s more and more cases.” 

Nepal has more than 1,500 cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The Canadian government offers a $5,000 emergency loan to people stranded abroad for “life-sustaining needs.” Robinson said she’s struggled to get out of debt before and had promised herself she’d never do it again, but realizes now she has no other choice but to take the money.

The local hospital told her they do not have ventilators and have run out of supplies needed to treat people with COVID-19. She says a Facebook group she’s part of lists more than 70 Canadians in Nepal who want to travel home. Yet she’s been told by consular support in India there aren’t enough people for a repatriation flight.

“I just don’t understand that,” she said. “They have the possibility to do it; I don’t know why they don’t.”



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