By GYNNIE KERO
A UNIVERSITY lecturer is thousands of miles away from his family this long Easter weekend – stranded in a city in Spain where he is studying.
Gibson Kupale, an engineer and lecturer at the University of Technology in Lae, who arrived in Valladolid city, Spain in February for a five-month study trip, is desperate to return home.
“My family is back in Unitech, my wife and three daughters. We communicate through WhatsApp but I sort of stopped as I knew they are going to ask the same obvious question. I don’t have an answer,” he said.
“The fear I have now is the distance I am from PNG. Spain to Port Moresby usually takes three connecting flights. But through diplomatic intervention, I am optimistic that I should be allowed through all stopovers/transit zones and eventually make it back home.”
Kupale is one of the PNG citizens stranded abroad because of the Covid-19 lockdown. He contacted The National yesterday to raise his case with Foreign Affairs department officials in Port Moresby who are currently trying to contact them.
“I saw an article in The National regarding the (Government plan on the) repatriation of citizens and wanted to contact the Department of Foreign Affairs but couldn’t,” he said.
“I contacted the nearest embassy which is in Brussels, Belgium. They were very helpful and able to support me. We worked on options for me to leave.
“But the fear of catching the disease in a foreign country with no relatives or wantok to take care of me has practically kept me indoors for the past four weeks.
“I still don’t know when this will end.”
He left the country on Feb 15 and was supposed to return on July 15. But the tour had to be cut short because of the pandemic. Valladolid city is a two-hour travel by train from Spain’s capital Madrid.
Foreign Affairs Minister Patrick Pruaitch recently tasked the department to devise an evacuation plan and budget to help stranded citizens in various countries.
Pruaitch said PNG’s diplomatic missions abroad should be resourced and supported to assist in the evacuation of PNG nationals.
“We have the responsibility to look after our citizens abroad and to bring them home in times of emergency,” he said.
“The longer they are stranded, the higher the risk of exposing them to the virus.”
Prime Minister James Marape on Tuesday said Papua New Guinean citizens living overseas would be repatriated. Kupale described Marape’s statement as “a blessing from God”.
“It is a huge relief. I am really grateful to our prime minister for leaving no citizen behind in these tough times,” he said.
“I’m the one stranded in Spain. Being the furthest from everyone else and from a country ranking among the worst hit by Covid-19, I am praying that I will join (those) returning team home to PNG soon.”
By GYNNIE KERO