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'We are desperate here': B.C. family stuck in the Philippines pleads for repatriation flight
VANCOUVER -- Carla Olle and her husband, Luis Rivera, took their three kids on a spring break trip to the Philippines.
"We checked with Canada to see how safe travel was," said Olle, "and there weren't any warnings to come to Philippines."
The Maple Ridge, B.C., family left the night of March 11. They told CTV News that, upon landing in the country, things started to change very quickly.
"When we were at the airport, we heard they are closing the border," she said in an interview from the family's Airbnb on the island of Bohol. "We only flew 13 hours and all of this happened."
Olle and her husband are travelling with their 12-year-old daughter, Carolina, 17-year-old son, Pat, and 27-year-old stepdaughter, Teresa.
"We tried to protect our family as all the families (have tried)," Olle said. She said they they searched for any travel warnings or advisories.
"But there was nothing," she said.
After spending the first five days at a hotel, the family moved to an Airbnb.
They're staying at the short-term rental they wait for a flight out. They were originally scheduled to return March 27, but that flight was cancelled.
"It was a nightmare to call Flight Hub," said Olle. But, she said, the family was able to rebook a flight on April 15.
But they've recently learned that flight is also in flux. They were supposed to fly through Taiwan, but a local lockdown there was just extended to the end of April.
Repatriation flights have been booked to get Canadians in countries around the world home.
Global Affairs told CTV News there are currently 8,500 Canadian citizens in the Philippines, 3,000 of which have requested repatriation flights.
It said it is working with airlines to arrange those flights.
Champagne issues warning to Canadians trapped abroad
In a statement, a Global Affairs spokesperson said the federal ministry is "fully aware of the very stressful situation many Canadians abroad are currently facing."
The statement went on to say Global Affairs had "invited registered citizens in the Philippines who are unable to travel back to Canada to provide information that will give us a better idea of the number of people in that situation and to better evaluate their needs."
In Thursday's daily news conference, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said the ministry continues to work to get Canadians home.
"As of today, in co-operation with various airlines several of my counterparts of many governments, we have facilitated the return of thousands of Canadians on over 40 flights and from some 30 countries," he said.
"In coming days, some other flights will allow Canadians to return from Peru, India, Pakistan, Poland, Cuba, and Trinidad and Tobago, and from various African countries."
He went on to remind everyone travelling back that they must self-isolate immediately upon returning.
"I understand fully your anxiety, I read your messages, and I understand your desire to come home," Champagne said directly to Canadians still abroad. "We are working literally around the clock and doing everything we can to bring you home as quickly as possible."
In discussing the challenges the government is facing, Champagne explained it is dealing with airport, airspace and border closures, as well as restrictions to certain countries.
"We are working around the clock to overcome these barriers to bring you home," he said.
But, he warned, the government won't be able to bring everyone back to Canada.
"Please continue to follow the recommendations of local health authorities and take precautions necessary to protect your health and safety."
Stranded Canadians "want to see a plan" from government
Olle started a Facebook group called "Canadians Stranded in Philippines," which more than 100 people have joined. Many share similar stories in the group, saying they are stuck and worried, desperate to get home.
Another couple from Kelowna wrote they flew to the Philippines March 2 to spend three weeks at one of their parents' homes.
"March 14 we heard the news that the president here will lockdown every city here in the Philippines," wrote Abigail Salazar-Egley.
"We went to Manila from Cavite, to just rent a condo near the Manila airport so that we won't have any hassles to travel to the airport on our flight date, and we'll be able to self-quarantine ourselves before we leave the country."
Their flight was also cancelled.
On the island of Bohol, Olle said her husband is the only one who can leave the apartment right now. She told CTV News officials only gives permission for one adult in the house to leave.
"There is police control to see if you are the person with the permit allowed to go," she said. "We are in complete lockdown."
As school restarts in B.C., Olle told CTV News she's waking her kids up at 2 a.m. so they can keep up with their studies.
"We have 15 hours' difference," she said. "For us it was just a spring break holiday and so far it looks like this is never going to end."
Speaking directly to the prime minister during our interview Olle said, "We need to hear that you're working on a rescue and you are planning on having some airplanes, flights, something."
She went on to say, "We don't want to see the generic emails that say 'Buy lots of food, take your cash, stay where you are.' We already know that. But we want to see a plan from our prime minister. We want to see a plan from our government."