How 700 Italian nationals were repatriated from Kenya

Thursday, June 4th, 2020 00:00 |
Italian nationals and escort teams board buses in Malindi for a 120km airport transfer journey to Mombasa to fly home last month. LEFT: Freddie Del Curatolo, spokesman of the Italian community at the Coast. Photo/PD/Jasmine Atieno

Jasmine Atieno @sparkleMine

More than 700 Italian nationals mainly from the Coastal region have been successfully repatriated by the Italian government with full support of the Kenyan government.

The evacuation involved three flights by different airlines from Moi International Airport Mombasa to Malpensa Airport in Milan and Rome’s Fiumicino Airport on March 31, May 17 and May 21. 

The Italian tourists and residents were stuck in Kenya after all international passenger flights were suspended on March 25. 

However, according the spokesman of the Italian community in Kenya Coast, Freddie Del Curatolo, there were no welcoming parties by families or friends in Italy for the arrivals due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Italy had reported more than 233,600 cases and 33,550 deaths from the virus by yesterday.   

Del Curatolo said the two final repatriation trips were tricky as they involved secrecy in planning due to safety for the guests on the 120km ride from Malindi to Mombasa.

Italian volunteer Silvia Constanca Romano, who was kidnapped by unknown gunmen in Kilifi in November 2018, was released last month. 

The airlift is the largest repatriation operation of the Italian Government ever carried out in Kenya, set up by the Italian government and coordinated by the Italian Embassy in Kenya.

“The evacuation included 12 buses from four different locations at the Coast in an exercise that also got support from the Kilifi county government,” he said.

Italy’s Honorary Consul in Malindi, his staff and volunteers from the tourism fraternity at the Coast organised the trips.

“The excursion company  provided seamless airport transfers together with the Southern Sky Safaris, plus a local charter flight from Lamu and another busload from Nairobi,” Curatolo said.  

“This has been the most important evacuation in the whole African continent by our government in times of the Covid-19 emergency,” he added, paying tributes to the Kenyan government for its support and help. 

The organisation had started early, with the request for all the permits that the emergency repatriation requires for travel and the guarantee of maximum safety conditions so that the long bus column could face the road from Malindi to Moi Airport, Mombasa, which has numerous checkpoints.

“It was a different and unprecedented organisational effort in Kenya, with lockdowns between individual regions and nationwide curfew,” he told Travelwise

“We had to gather our nationals from different destinations and others from various tourist resorts at the Coast so we could safely reach Mombasa airport, thanks also to the availability of local authorities,” Curatolo said of the third repatriation flight of May 21. 

During the first return flight earlier on March 31,  the Kilifi County Government had not yet been “armoured” for the Covid-19 emergency (the cessation of movement from Kilifi, Mombasa, Kwale and Nairobi was declared  on April 6) so all guests from resorts or holidaymakers from private homes reached Moi Airport, Mombasa on their own. 

Italian Ambassador, Alberto Pieri said for the 21 May flight, Italians stranded in Malindi, Watamu, Mambrui and Kilifi were directed and gathered to travel together in large buses whose capacity was halved, accommodating only 20 people each.

By this time, Kilifi was well prepared for Covid-19 and there had not been a case of coronavirus for two months.

  The pick-ups from the various departure stations was quick and quiet; in Malindi the bar opened at 6am for the last Kenyan breakfast’ with espresso and brioche (light sweet yeast bread)  and packed sandwiches.

The convoy left at 7am to  reach Mombasa at 11am, where a Boeing from Neos Aviation awaited them.

It  took off about 12.55 pm to arrive in Milan in the evening and then continued to Rome airport, where it landed at midnight.

“The third plane with the last 240 Italians was not crowded. The passengers were all long-distance holidaymakers, homeowners, seasonal activity managers and residents.

On board were Italian residents and hotel staff who had booked a return flight with the Neos Company in April, but were re-routed without penaltiest on the last flight,” he said. 

Del Curatolo said retaining the interest of investors going forward will now completely depend on the Kenya government support.

“It really depends; investors want tax exemptions, funds used for marketing are something far from the real needs of the sector,” he said. 

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