Namibia: Students Beg to Be Sent Home

14 February 2020

Hordes of Namibian students studying in China feel they have been abondoned by the government as they haplessly watch the evacuation of other international students from coronavirus-hit Wuhan.

The Chinese city went into lockdown three weeks ago following the outbreak of the deadly virus, which has so far claimed about 1 370 lives. While many countries acted swiftly to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan and nine other cities that are on lockdown in a bid to manage the spread of the new strain of coronavirus, Namibian authorites are yet to act, much to the disappointment of the students trapped in China.

Most airlines from last week have imposed travel bans on China to cut travel to and from the country where the disease is endemic despite World Health Organisation calls to reconsider such measures.

Namibian students in the city at the centre of the outbreak are confined to dormitories, hoping to avoid coronavirus infection. The students in the city of thousands of other international students are feeling isolated and anxious, and they are pleading to be evacuated. They have called for help through China social media platform, WeChat, for the Namibian government, the embassy of Namibia in China and other stakeholders to facilitate and negotiate a strategy for their evacuation but to no avail.

A Namibian student at Hubei University of Technology in Wuhan, Jeffrey Gaseb said: "As a student in Wuhan, China, it feels like life is on a standstill although we have to give praise to the Chinese government for keeping the foreigners' best interests at heart in trying to assure our safety. However, our government doesn't seem to meet us halfway."

"Students have been indoors for almost 20 days now and it is becoming a mental battle for some and that is something that most students cannot deal with," he added.

He stressed that Namibians were depressed. "We understand that evacuating students from China will cause a rift in the relationship between Namibia and China but at the same time we are risking ourselves everyday here. If the government cannot afford to evacuate us, at least let them talk to our parents and see if we cannot add some money ourselves and with their help we try and get out of here while we still in a healthy condition."

Another Namibian university student in Wuhan, Ruusa Uugwanga, shared similar views, saying the government should at least meet them halfway.

"What we are saying is at least the government should organise a plane that we can even pay for ourselves - we are sick and tired of being here, it is depressing. What is also upsetting is the fact that the people in official positions are being subjective on their own opinions, they are not checking up on the students," she said.

"The ambassador is not doing anything. Nobody is listening to us and I hate to be the bearer of bad news but it is just a matter of time that they hear a Namibian has died in China. It gets worse by the day. This situation isn't getting any better. What is so difficult with getting 27 students out of China? Honestly!"

The students in Hubei also claimed they were left to fend for themselves and on their own with no support from the embassy since the outbreak. Countries such as Japan, Spain, Morocco, US, Libya, Egypt, Mauritania and Tunisia have already evacuated their citizens from Wuhan, while Kenya recently announced it would evacuate 85 citizens but only when the authorities lift the lockdown.

Approached for comment, Namibian Ambassador to China Elia Kaiyamo said the ministry of international relations should comment on the issue as they have been briefed about it. However, efforts to contact the ministry proved futile yesterday.

Chinese ambassador respond

Meanwhile, the Chinese Ambassador to Namibia Yiming Zhang yesterday said universities in Hubei have adopted strict and meticulous measures to contain the epidemic. "Due to the need for epidemic containment, air, railway and road links to Wuhan have been cut off and according to WHO experts' assessment from a professional perspective, of without absolute security and convenient transportation, the best way at present is to stay in Wuhan instead of rushing to be transferred out of the city because it will add more uncertainties."

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