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Guam governor wants US to cut flow of inbound islanders during Covid-19

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MAJURO — The governor of Guam has asked the United States federal government to enforce screening measures to slow the flow of islanders from the Freely Associated States coming to the American territory during the Covid-19 pandemic.

International Organization for Migration warehouse manager Steve Enoch, left, and Ministry of Health and Human Services official Mackneil Abraham show off pallets full of personal protection equipment recently delivered to Majuro through funding of the United States government.      Photo by Giff Johnson

 

Responding to Guam Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero’s action, Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Casten Nemra on Thursday urged a collaborative effort among U.S.-affiliated islands to contain the widening coronavirus problem in the region. Nemra also expressed concern about the Guam request to have U.S. federal authorities institute screening of people from the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau entering Guam under the visa-free provisions of the Compact of Free Association. These three nations are known as the Freely Associated States or FAS.

Leon Guerrero sent a letter to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the US Covid-19 Task Force, on April 6 asking “the Covid-19 Task Force [to] provide guidance to the Departments of State, Homeland Security and Interior to intervene on this matter of continuing travel from the FAS to Guam.”

Guerrero pointed out that the U.S. government under the Compact of Free Association “has the authority to institute screening measures to ensure that allowable migration is consistent with the Compacts of Free Association.” She added that she supports and encourages this action.

The Compacts with the three island nations allow the U.S. to institute a "means test" on arriving islanders. But since the Compact first went into force in 1986, this provision has never been administered. Large populations of people from the FAS live in the mainland U.S., Hawaii and Guam.

The Guam governor said the two main reasons for FAS citizens migrating to Guam — education and jobs — currently don’t exist because of the shutdown of Guam due to Covid-19 spread. Schools are closed and only essential businesses are operating on Guam. “Our economy is currently in a downturn,” she said, adding “we no longer have tourists visiting, hotels have closed along with other supporting small businesses and because of this there are no job openings.”

Guam has reported 136 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and five deaths. There have not yet been any confirmed Covid-19 cases in Palau, the FSM or the Marshall Islands.

Marshall Islands Health Secretary Jack Niedenthal, left, joins Majuro hospital laboratory director Paul Lalita and Dr. Robert Maddison in showing Covid-19 test equipment that arrived April 20, giving the Marshall Islands on-island test capability for the first time.     Photo by Hilary Hosia



She said “the two reasons for the Compact’s free migration provisions currently do not exist on Guam.” Leon Guerrero also expressed concern that the FAS had banned travel to their islands by citizens living outside, “yet continue to allow migration from their countries to the U.S. under the migration provisions of the Compacts. This is very concerning to Guam.”

The FSM, however, in addition to banning inbound arrivals by air has also banned all out-bound travel by its citizens except for people needing medical treatment or citizens who normally reside in another country. The Marshall Islands has since February banned travel by government workers and discouraged international travel by citizens and residents.

Leon Guerrero said Guam doesn’t have the resources “to quarantine FAS citizens who become stranded on Guam because they are not able to return to their country, nor can we quarantine those FAS citizens who are allowed to leave their country utilizing the migration provisions of the Compacts.”

Foreign Minister Nemra said the governor’s request to institute screening “is not a good consideration.” He said the Marshall Islands “consistently advised its residents not to travel abroad and later had to institute a travel restriction for all inbound passengers as the virus began to persistently spread in the region.”

Nemra said he is communicating with Guam leaders and also contacted relevant officials within the U.S. government on the concern raised by the government of Guam. “The Marshall Islands commends the effort of Guam to contain Covid-19,” Nemra said. “These islands are facing a global pandemic that require collaboration of all of our jurisdictions in the Micronesian region. The Marshall Islands is always open to dialogue to find feasible solutions.”

With respect to addressing Guam’s immigration concern, “the Marshall Islands shall work closely with the U.S. given our unique and special bilateral relationship,” said Nemra.

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