• By Pacific island Times News Staff

Pohnpei, Kosrae ready welcome home FSM citizens stranded in RMI

FSM President David W. Panuelo speak in a teleconference with the stranded MiCare medical patients.

Palikir, Pohnpei— Beginning Oct. 30, Pohnpei and Kosrae will reopen their states for the arrival of Micronesian citizens who have been stranded in the Marshall Islands, the Office of the FSM President announced today.

The FSM government said its has completed the last of its technical requirements to initiate repatriation of the citizens from Covid-19-free jurisdictions.

Only FSM citizens will be repatriated on the flight, which is chartered through Air Marshall Islands. All citizens will be tested for Covid-19 prior to arrival, and will submit themselves to standardized quarantine procedures in Pohnpei and Kosrae, to include additional Covid-19 testing prior to entry into the community.

FSM President David W. Panuelo has instructed the Covid-19 task force to conduct an assessment of Yap’s repatriation capacity as soon as Caroline Islands Air was able to conduct Y-12 flights from Pohnpei to Yap, so that the nation can repatriate FSM citizens stranded in Palau. The government is not yet able to confirm dates for these repatriation events, but they remain priorities for the near future.

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Panuelo spoke for approximately three hours in a teleconference with the stranded MiCare medical patients. The purpose of the teleconference was to give the stranded citizens the opportunity to hear from the president himself as to what the nation is doing to assist the FSM’s stranded citizens.

While in transit in different locations on their way back home, traveling FSM citizens have been stranded after FSM stranded its borders in March to prevent the entry of Covid-19. An undtermined number of FSM are still stranded on Guam and Hawaii-- both locations are still experiencing widespread transmission of coronavirus.

According to the FSM government, 12 medical patients alone have received 470,000 in aggregate through per diems and other MiCare assistance.

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Panuelo announced that FSM is seriously looking into cooperating with the United States to conduct a humanitarian assistance flight on or around the time of Operation Christmas Drop sometime in early December

“We’re working with the U.S. to see the possibility of chartering a U.S. military aircraft, to see if it can coincide with the schedule of Operation Christmas Drop,” Panuelo said.

“I will ask that the U.S. cooperate with our parameters, such as that the crew is tested for Covid-19 and follow exemplary decontamination procedures. Medical patients, the two FSM Congress senators, and diplomats from the United States, Japan and Australia, would still undergo the pre-quarantine procedures at [a designated facility] for 14 days, including Covid-19 testing several times, and then possibly arrive sometime in December.”

However, this is just a plan, the president said.

“Because of the rapidly evolving situation with Covid-19, I am not promising that this will happen,” he said, “But I want you to know that we are seriously exploring this. I appreciate that you want to be home before Christmas, and while I regret that I cannot promise that because I must protect the FSM from the virus, we do care about our citizens stranded abroad.”

Panuelo said he has requested that the new MiCare administrator work with the MiCare Board to recommend options to expand MiCare coverage beyond $50,000 per annum, particularly for individuals who are receiving MiCare benefits due to being stranded abroad.

Panuelo said stranded citizens are eligible to apply for the governnment's relief funding, and that he recently approved 81 MiCare self-referral patients and 19 families attending funerals abroad (funerals are a sacred Micronesian tradition) for this relief, even though they otherwise would not have qualified for the assistance.

Panuelo said Pohnpei will be the first for repatriation because it’s the most ready.

“We haven’t publicized repatriation dates because I have a duty to protect the country, and so I demand an absolutely airtight repatriation regime," the president told the FSM citizens during the teleconference.

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"I hope you can appreciate that we are making decisions to be careful but—the charter I am working with the United States on, again, I cannot promise what will happen, because every piece of information will be taken into consideration before a decision is made with the option of repatriation, but I am committed to helping you all get back home," Panuelo said.

After the meeting, Panuelo instructed the Department of Foreign Affairs to formally follow up with the U.S. on FSM's interest in chartering an Operation Christmas Drop humanitarian flight to repatriate stranded medical patients, the two senators in the 21st FSM Congress stranded abroad, diplomats and citizens overall.

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Many of the stranded medical patients relayed their personal experiences and questions to the president over the three-hour teleconference.

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