Israelis must come home before it’s too late, Katz warns

Special flights brings back Israelis from Colombia, Hungary; Israeli students in Jordan return.

An arrivals board in the South Terminal building at Gatwick Airport, after the airport reopened to flights following its forced closure because of drone activity, in Gatwick, Britain, December 21, 2018 (photo credit: REUTERS/TOBY MELVILLE)
An arrivals board in the South Terminal building at Gatwick Airport, after the airport reopened to flights following its forced closure because of drone activity, in Gatwick, Britain, December 21, 2018
(photo credit: REUTERS/TOBY MELVILLE)
The government will not be able to help Israelis abroad as much, as more borders close and flights are canceled in the wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Foreign Minister Israel Katz warned on Thursday.
"The window of opportunity to return to Israel is shrinking, as is the State of Israel's ability to help Israelis who remain abroad during the coronavirus crisis," Foreign Minister Israel Katz warned.
Katz called on all Israelis to make an effort to find their way back to Israel.
A chartered El Al flight from Bogota evacuated nearly 70 Israelis from Colombia on Thursday morning as most flights were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Katz specifically ordered his ministry to organize the flight to help Israeli backpackers who were unable to find flights out of the country. The flight is expected to land in Israel on Thursday evening.
Israeli Ambassador to Colombia Chris Cantor said he was “glad to successfully help all the Israelis who wanted to return to Israel to do so.
El Al flight attendants checked the passengers’ temperatures at the entrance to the plane. At least one baby was on board with her mother.
The passengers paid a regular ticket price and the government covered additional costs.
At the beginning of the week there were about 130 Israelis left in Colombia. About 50 of them found their own way out of the country, and 15 decided to stay.
 “The worried families of the Israeli backpackers in Colombia can smile,” Katz said earlier this week. “Israel is not abandoning its children.”
The Foreign Ministry also helped about 200 Israelis studying in Jordan to return. They entered Israel through the Jordan River Crossing and were sent to quarantine hotels.
Israel's Ambassador to Australia said Thursday morning that the Foreign Ministry is considering sending another flight to evacuate more Israelis, and asked people interested in such a flight to e-mail the consulate.
Another 200 Israelis are expected to return from Budapest, Hungary on a special Arkia flight on Thursday. The Chabad affiliated EMIH Hungarian-Jewish Association coordinated the flight with the Foreign Ministry. Most of the passengers are Israelis studying in Hungary and workers at a kosher slaughterhouse who commute between the countries.
Several foreign nationals stranded in Israel will be aboard the flight to Budapest en route to their homes in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Croatia.
On Wednesday, the final Israelis in Myanmar began making their way home with the Foreign Ministry's help.
The backpackers’ flights included a stopover in Bangkok, after the Foreign Ministry negotiated with the Thai government to allow Israelis to pass through without visas or the required health certificates.
The Israeli Embassy in Bangkok said they do not expect there to be more flights from Thailand after March 31 and called on Israelis to find their way home.
Half of the 6000 Israelis that asked the Foreign Ministry for help in recent weeks have already returned, including about 1,000 from India, 1,000 from Peru, hundreds from Australia, Brazil and Mexico and about 100 each from Nepal and Myanmar. Over 1,000 Israeli students returned from Eastern Europe.
The Foreign Ministry emphasized the “mutual responsibility and effort the State of Israel makes to help its sons and daughters return home at this time of the worldwide coronavirus crisis.”
On Tuesday, the first-ever direct commercial flight from Australia to Israel departed with about 230 Israelis aboard. The special flight came as Australia planned to close its borders to foreigners. The El Al flight sold out 15 minutes after it was announced.


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