“An incredible effort”

So far, 212,000 German an European tourists have been brought home in the wake of the corona crisis. Frank Hartmann from the Federal Foreign Office explains how this is organised.

Frank Hartmann, Commissioner for Crisis Management at the Federal Foreign Office
Frank Hartmann, Commissioner for Crisis Management at the Federal Foreign Office dpa

Mr Hartmann, you are the person at the Federal Foreign Office responsible for the unprecedented programme to bring tourists back home because of the corona crisis. Do you have up-to-date numbers?

Over 212,000 Germans have been brought back since the repatriation programme was announced by Foreign Minister Maas on 17 March 2020: more than 58,000 of them in over 230 special flights chartered by the Federal Foreign Office, while the remaining travellers flew with commercial flights, where we were often active in providing support. In many countries where the airports had already been closed and curfews imposed, such as New Zealand, we worked hard to get special flights approved and for tourists to be allowed to travel to airports. Soon, when this operation comes to an end, it will be the largest and most comprehensive repatriation programme in the history of the Federal Foreign Office, one that could only have been achieved with an incredible effort and the support of countless colleagues in Germany and abroad.

Are tourists from other European countries also allowed to fly on board the German aircraft?

It is active solidarity with other EU member states and additional partner countries, such as Israel, when we take their citizens with us. This is a form of give-and-take between partners, who sometimes fly to destinations we do not serve. As a result, so far we have enabled some 5,000 citizens of EU member states and a further 1,000 from third countries to travel home via Germany.

The repatriation programme is active solidarity with other EU member states and additional partner countries.

Frank Hartmann, Commissioner for Crisis Management at the Federal Foreign Office

How does coordination with European partners work?

We give all EU member states and the European Commission advance notice of our special flights before departure. There’s a database in which details are entered about the requirements of each country and who can offer places on aircraft. Contact is also made directly between capital cities, not only with EU partners like France, Spain or Austria, but also very intensively with Switzerland and Israel. Our embassies coordinate passenger lists with the partner countries locally. In return, the other countries offer us allocations of places that we can then use locally through our diplomatic missions abroad.

German and European tourists are brought back from the Philippines
German and European tourists are brought back from the Philippines dpa

How do tourists without German passports find out that they can join a German flight?

Our ambassadors coordinate locally with the embassies of EU member states and other partner countries, who inform their citizens about the possibility of joining a flight. This is usually comparable with the information that German embassies publish in bulletins for German citizens abroad or on social media on the basis of the so-called ELEFAND lists. Information about special flights is also exchanged in Brussels and between the respective foreign ministries; at the Federal Foreign Office this data is processed by the roughly 50 colleagues in the repatriation programme and forwarded to the embassies.

What are the largest ongoing operations now?

For the repatriation programme we are still organising several special flights to countries from which it has not been possible to bring people back. These are above all New Zealand and South Africa. These operations will be completed shortly. When the large groups have returned from the main destinations, we will continue supporting German citizens who need help abroad through our embassies and consulates. After the repatriation programme ends we will continue to seek means of returning people to Germany – for example, by using the repatriation flights of European partners. We must actively support our diplomatic missions and make provision for emergencies. After all, against the background of poor supply situations and inadequate health systems in many countries, the pandemic could also give rise to acute crisis situations. We are well prepared for such eventualities with our national crisis management team, for which the Federal Foreign Office and the Federal Ministry of Defence are jointly responsible.

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