March is the end of the high summer holidays season in Argentina. Therefore, many locals were still abroad at the time when President Fernández declared quarantine and closed borders and air space just two weeks after the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the country. One of the most controversial measures was the restriction of foreign flights. Only a few flights from the national airline were enabled.
This initiated the drama of the 21.493 Argentines who were now stranded in different continents around the world.
Society was divided. While many empathize with the stranded abroad, others criticized them alleging that if they had money to go on vacation, they should be able to stay abroad and that the government was doing the right thing by preventing them from “bringing the virus” from countries where the pandemic was most developed.
In Argentina, the lockdown was so strict that somes planes landed to return foreigners from our country and couldn’t bring our nationals that were waiting in foreign airports. Thesel airlines flew empty towards our country. It was devastating.
Foreign Minister has expressed his commitment to all Argentines but the Minister of Health established a limit of 600 people per day entering through our international airport. Three months later there are still thousands who have not been able to come back.
Attending the humanitarian situation, LA NACION made this reporting an editorial priority.
We released five special multimedia packages with maps, infographics, video testimonies, photos and a podcast episode. We also published more than 140 personal stories under the tag: Stranded Abroad.
The situation gets worse if one takes into account the economical situation of the country, 1 US dollar is the equivalent to 140 argentine pesos, and argentines must pay 30% tax over the official currency exchange price for each purchase they make abroad. The extraordinary expenses and new tickets bought in a desperate attempt to return home by other airlines, led thousands to situations of insolvency, homelessness and in some cases, life danger. Most of them lost the return tickets.
Stories ranged from people with chronic illnesses that could not access medication, others eating once a day thanks to charity and some few even sold even their phones and personal belongings in order to get a place to sleep.
Stranded in South Africa chained themselves to Argentina’s Embassy demanding a humanitarian flight.
Stranded in India got a stamp in their forearms and couldn’t pay their stay with credit cards while running out of rupees.
In the Philippines, they got robbed during the night by small kids who were sent to steal their belongings.
In Ecuador they lived 50 meters away from corpses laying in the streets of Guayaquil because the government could not attend all the services required.
We also followed stories of people stranded inside cruise boats for weeks that couldnt go up to the common areas and had to stay in their little cabins without windows. No country allowed them to get down in their ports.
All finalists for the Gather Award in Engaged Journalism were invited by the award sponsor, the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication’s Agora Journalism Center, to participate in a Lightning Chat where they were given the opportunity to talk more about the impact of their OJA finalist engaged journalism project. Check out this finalists Lightning Chat below.