Meet the 'forgotten Canadians' stranded in remote corners of the world demanding help to get home

They are the outliers — the last 10 per cent of Canadians stranded abroad who want to come home amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But the Canadian government may not be able to repatriate all of them.

From Costa Rica to Nepal, Canadians have been stranded for months by the COVID-19 pandemic

Ana Nehring, left, travelled to Lima, Peru, in early March to take care of her mother Graciela Cortavitarte Mendoza, 87, who had a stroke. She's struggled to get home because Peru stopped allowing repatriation flights to land. (Submitted by Ana Nehring)

An Alberta woman fears for her life in Peru as the death toll there rises and the health care system collapses around her. 

A 75-year-old pensioner from Nova Scotia is stranded alone on the top of a mountain in a tiny village in Central America, with no way out. 

A Montreal woman is living in a $7-a-day hotel room in the mountains of locked-down Nepal and has been told the local hospital ran out of necessities to help those with COVID-19. 

They are the outliers — the last 10 per cent of Canadians stranded abroad who want to come home during a deadly worldwide pandemic. But the Canadian government may not be able to repatriate them all because of the complexity of their cases.

"It's a possible death sentence for a lot of Canadian citizens and residents in Peru," Albertan Ana Nehring told CBC News from Lima. "We need to be rescued. We need to get out of here."

Ottawa is down to its final push to retrieve Canadians stuck abroad. Over 40,681 have been repatriated from 107 countries on 378 flights since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

But the federal government has said the last unresolved cases are often the toughest ones to address. In some countries, there aren't enough Canadians to justify sending an entire plane. In others, repatriation flights are being barred from entering. Canadian consular services officials, meanwhile, are working to help stranded citizens shelter where they are until borders reopen.

But some of those stranded say they are in precarious situations and want Canada to find a way to get them home quickly.

"We are working to help as many Canadians as possible return home, but some may remain outside the country for an indeterminate period," Angela Savard, a spokesperson with Global Affairs, said in a statement to CBC News. 

Stuck in Peru: Ana Nehring, Lise Blais 

Nehring flew to Peru on March 3 to rush to her mother's side after she suffered a stroke. She's an only child and needed to find her mother a long-term care facility to live in. 

Two weeks later, Peru launched a lockdown that closed its borders to international travel. Nehring is still stuck in Lima.

She said the country is struggling to control its outbreak — and all she wants to do is get home to St. Albert.

Doctors and nurses attend to COVID-19 patients inside the intensive care unit at the Guillermo Almenara hospital in Lima on May 22. Despite strict measures to control the virus, this South American nation of 32 million has become one of the countries worst hit by the disease. (Rodrigo Abd/Associated Press)

According to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, Peru has more than 160,000 confirmed cases, the tenth-highest national caseload in the world — and has recorded more than 4,500 deaths.

Nehring said the streets are filled with military and police. She said she's haunted by seeing a dead body on the ground on her way to the grocery store recently; she couldn't for sure whether it was a victim of COVID-19.

"We need more help," Nehring said. "I'm scared. We should not be here. The numbers are growing very rapidly ... There are a lot of people dying."

She said she tried to land a spot on one of Canada's nine repatriation flights out, but all the seats were taken. Global Affairs told CBC News that it brought more than 2,650 citizens back to Canada on those planes. But it ended the efforts in mid-April because the Peruvian government stopped allowing repatriation flights into the country.

Checkpoints are set up in Lima, Peru, where dozens of Canadians say they are stuck waiting for flights out of the country. (Submitted by Ana Nehring)

Nehring said she wants the government to send a military aircraft to pick up Canadians who want to leave Peru — they number about 200, according to a Facebook group's tally.

Lise Blais is also in Lima and worried about catching COVID-19 as the number of cases climb. She's trying to get home to her son and grandchildren in Montreal and said she's been stuck inside the same four walls since March 16.

"Life is very difficult," said Blais. "I'm really scared to death.

"It's so stressful. I'm losing my appetite. I don't sleep well. It's like a permanent nightmare. Living and waiting, it's really terrible. Enough to make stomach ulcers."

WATCH | Lise Blais, stranded in Peru, says, 'The waiting is killing me'

'The waiting is killing me,' says Lise Blais stuck in Peru

2 years ago
Duration 0:42
Lise Blais says can't eat or sleep because she's stressed about catching COVID-19 and wants the Canadian government to help get her home to Montreal.

Stranded in Costa Rica: Maxine Bruce

Maxine Bruce is a 75-year-old Canadian snowbird stuck in Costa Rica. She's been hauling her groceries two kilometres up a mountain because she won't get in a taxi due to the pandemic. She's walking even further to try to scour the nearby village of Santa Maria de Dota for supplies and medications.

Maxine Bruce is stuck in the mountains in Costa Rica after her Air Canada flight to Canada was cancelled during the pandemic. (CBC)

Bruce said she's trying to get home to the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia to help her brother, who has early onset dementia. But for some reason, she said, Global Affairs Canada thinks she's in another Central American country — the government has been sending her a "wealth of information applicable to Panama."

The Canadian government has been "useless," she said.

"We're the forgotten Canadians stranded in these places. Basically, they said it was my choice to travel so it's down to me to get myself out of this mess."

Trying to get out of Ecuador: David Robinson

David Robinson was told the only flights out of Ecuador are through the U.S. Embassy, and they are expected to end soon. (Submitted by David Robinson)

David Robinson has spent the past year living on the ocean in Manta, Ecuador, while he had a medical procedure done to his foot. Now he said he wants to "get the hell out of Dodge" but Canada's consular services told him by email on May 6 that the only way out would be on a U.S.-chartered flight.

He said he's upset he was told to contact the U.S. embassy for help.

"It's maddening," he said. "It's literally disgusting. I've been paying taxes since I've been 15 and this is what they're doing to me now, saying, 'Whatever.'"

The last of six flights contracted by the Canadian government left Ecuador on April 30. Global Affairs said that as of today, commercial fights are allowed to take off and land in that country — but there are no direct flights to Canada planned "for the foreseeable future."

"Many indirect options will become available as airlines re-establish operations," said Savard. "For those seeking to return to Canada from Ecuador, we encourage those Canadians to contact a travel agent or research flights to Canada online."

Hunkering down in Nepal: Catherine Breton

Catherine Breton is in a small village in Nepal with other tourists also stranded abroad due to the pandemic. (Catherine Breton/Facebook)

Catherine Breton is stuck in a cheap hotel with a small group of German and British tourists who are also stranded. She's in Bandipur, a small village in the mountains in Nepal about an hour's walk from a main road and a 12-hour bus ride from the capital, Kathmandu.

She said she was on a spiritual journey to study Buddhism when the pandemic hit. Breton said she couldn't afford $4,000 for a spot on an earlier repatriation flight, so she decided to wait for other options to emerge. She's still waiting.

"I'm getting scared," she said. "There's more and more cases."

Nepal has more than 1,500 COVID-19 cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The Canadian government offers a $5,000 emergency loan to people stranded abroad for "life-sustaining needs." Breton said she's struggled to get out of debt before and had promised herself she'd never do it again, but realizes now she has no choice but to take the money.

The local hospital told her it does not have ventilators and has run out of supplies needed to treat people with COVID-19. She said a Facebook group she's part of lists more than 70 Canadians in Nepal who want to travel home — but she's been told by consular support in India there aren't enough people for a repatriation flight.

"I just don't understand that," she said. "They have the possibility to do it. I don't know why they don't."


Ashley Burke

Senior reporter

Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. Have a story idea? Email her at ashley.burke@cbc.ca

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