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American Samoa government accused of having no repatriation plan

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PAGO PAGO (RNZ Pacific/Pacific News) — A lawmaker in American Samoa says the government is lacking any plan to safely bring home residents who went off-island for medical appointments.

Rep. Vesi Talalelei Fautanu Jr., as chair of the House Health Committee, wrote to Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga, requesting a repatriation flight for residents stranded in Hawai'i and the U.S mainland.

A number of residents had left for medical reasons but their return had been blocked when the U.S. territory closed its border in March.

Due to the high rates of infections among Pacific Island communities in the U.S, Vesi said his committee felt it was vital and urgent that there be a plan to repatriate residents for their safety and well-being.

In response, the local Covid task force chairman, Iulogologo Joseph Pereira, denied the request, saying the situation in Hawai'i and other U.S. states was highly volatile because of an exponential spike in Covid-19 cases.

“The governor is hesitant to expose our people here to harm's way by repatriating our people stranded in the U.S.,” he wrote.

Iulogologo also pointed out there were limited quarantine facilities in the territory.

But Vesi is not giving up.

He said a government meeting today showed there is no plan to bring home  at least 500 American Samoan nationals who have been stranded for up to six months.

“Without any means of support financially, mentally and whatever you have as far as paying for hotel rooms and transportation and you know the whole deal.

“So that is the whole reason I wrote the memo to the governor.”

Vesi said he is meeting with the Lolo again this week to start forming a plan.

He said once they could bring medical travelers home safely they could then start to work on how to bring other American Samoans back who want to return.

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