FSM postpones repatriation of stranded citizens

FSM President David Panuelo

Palikir, Pohnpei— Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo has indefinitely postponed the government's planned Dec. 5 repatriation of stranded Micronesians and diplomats, whoa re currently in a pre-quarantine facility on Guam.

At the same time, Panuelo formalized his government's request for the United States to forego this year’s Operation Christmas Drop.

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Both decisions were made due to ongoing concerns regarding the Covid-19 pandemic.

After receiving a briefing on the mechanics and technical components of the repatriation, Panuelo learned that there are potential gaps in the effort to make an airtight process.

“I have every confidence with our national government’s preparedness to repatriate our citizens stranded abroad,” Panuelo said in a statement. “But upon multiple meetings with the Pohnpei State Executive and Legislative leadership and staff, and technical follow-ups with our health staff, it is clear that certain scenarios, however unlikely they are to occur, could threaten the safety of our citizens.”

The president said his decision to indefinitely postpone the first repatriation flight stemmed entirely from safety concerns, some of which are due to an emerging capacity shortfall issue with healthcare responders at the Pohnpei State Hospital.

“I have demanded an airtight repatriation regime, and I have been briefed on possible, if unlikely, scenarios that could result in Covid-19 spreading into the community. I cannot and will not allow that to happen,” Panuelo said.

Regarding the cancellation of Operation Christmas Drop, Panuelo said all FSM states expressed strong preference to skip participation this year.

“The citizens of the FSM recognize the value of Operation Christmas Drop, which is the longest running U.S. humanitarian assistance program entering its 69th consecutive year, and choosing to cancel was not an easy decision to make,” a press release from the FSM government said.

“The FSM national government is regretful for this difficult decision made in extraordinary times, and remains grateful to the U.S. Armed Forces for their enduring commitment to this profound symbol of the sincere friendship between the FSM and the United States.”

“In my capacity as president of the FSM, and in my personal capacity as a citizen, I have full trust and confidence in the United States Armed Forces to carry out Operation Christmas Drop in a safe manner,” Panuelo said. “We are cancelling Operation Christmas Drop this year not due to a lack of trust and confidence, but due to ongoing concerns from our citizens in our most remote and vulnerable communities about the Covid-19 pandemic.”

While he may have the authority to override the state governments’ decisions, Panuelo said “it is clear to me that when they are all in agreement on an issue such as this that the only appropriate course of action is to support them in full.”

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