More than 10,000 French tourists are stranded in Morocco, desperately hoping to get on a flight home after the country banned all flights to Europe in an attempt to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Our Observers, who were trapped in the airport in Marrakesh, told us about their odyssey.
Figuring out how to help French citizens stranded in Morocco became decidedly more difficult for French authorities on Friday, March 13 when the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs decided to suspend flights to Europe in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus. On Friday, 20,000 French citizens were still in Morocco, according to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. On Monday, authorities reported that 12,000 people were still stranded.
On March 14, Morocco finally authorized several flights to bring people back to Europe, the majority of them to France. But our Observers say that this isn’t enough to manage the situation.
Videos on social media show long queues stretching out in front of airline company counters and stranded travellers spending the night in crowded airports in Marrakesh, Casablanca and other cities.
"The crying, the exhaustion, the stress is making us panic!"
French citizen Sonia Hassainia spent more than 48 hours stranded in Marrakesh before finally managing to get on a flight back to Nice.
No one even gave us a second glance at the airport. No one offered us any food or water. We were completely left to our own devices. I was supposed to go back to Nice on Sunday but my flight was cancelled. I didn’t hear anything from the French embassy. Everyone was just watching Transavia’s website, trying to buy tickets as soon as they were made available.
Starting on Sunday morning, I spent night and day in a queue at the airport. I left the airport Sunday night but then got to the airport at 4am on Monday, like a lot of other people. The counter still wasn’t open at noon. The departure screens didn’t have a single flight on them.
It’s incredibly hard to get a ticket for a flight back to France. They disappear as soon as they go up for sale on Transavia’s website. A lot of people report that they’ve had problems finalizing their purchase. They’ll be ready to check out and suddenly it won’t go through and they’ll get a message saying that tickets "are no longer available at this price."
Other companies like Ryanair have upped their prices, sometimes even tripling them. They’ve refused to give travelers any kind of refund for cancelled flights or pay to put them up in hotels, apparently because they are "no longer their customers."
Sonia finally realized that she couldn’t leave the airport until she got a ticket back to France:
Lots of French people ended up sleeping here on Monday night. There was a lot of tension. Fights broke out between travelers or between exasperated travelers and airline staff. There were elderly people here and parents with small babies. The crying, the exhaustion and the stress made us panic even more!
Sonia finally managed to get on a flight back to France on Tuesday, March 17, but not without difficulty.
"We were all just panicked that we wouldn’t be able to get home"
French citizen Jonathan Thomas finally managed to get on a flight home on Monday evening after several nightmarish days. He said the French government did practically nothing to help with the situation.
I went to the consulate in Marrakesh on Saturday morning, the day after the announcement that flights had been suspended. At that time, the staff had absolutely no information for us.
We didn’t know if they would come up with some kind of solution or if we’d be stuck in Marrakesh. The Consulate wasn’t even able to tell us what official platform we should be looking at to get news and updates from them.
We filled out forms with our contact details and the date that we were originally supposed to fly back to France. I got two SMS messages from the Consulate but the content of these messages in no way reflected the urgency of the situation we were experiencing.
The French embassy announced on Sunday morning that they would be working in partnership with Transavia and Air France to repatriate French citizens, though these citizens would have to pay for the flights themselves.
On Twitter, the French ambassador to Morocco Hélène Le Gal told stranded travellers to regularly check airline websites in order to find tickets back to France.
We had to find information for ourselves on Transavia’s Facebook and Twitter pages. The French government didn’t hire a plane to repatriate us like we thought they would. We were all just panicked that we wouldn’t be able to get home.
I was able to extend my stay in a hotel, but some people don’t have the means to pay for a hotel while they wait. Those people were sleeping at the airport, where they risk getting infected.
The France 24 Observers team spoke to Transavia, who said that "38 repatriation flights were organized between March 14 and 17. Other flights have been scheduled for March 18". These flights brought "more than 7,000 passengers back to France (...) from different cities in Morocco including Marrakesh, Agadir, Casablanca, Tanger, Fez, Oujda and Rabat". The company also added, "All of the customers whose tickets were cancelled will be reimbursed by our customer service department."
The French Embassy in Morocco posted an emergency number for French people who want to leave Morocco, but the line is saturated with calls, according to the Embassy’s Facebook page.
Thousands of French citizens, who are still stranded in Morocco, are afraid they won’t be able to get home in the coming days.
On March 17, Morocco reported that it has recorded 38 cases of COVID-19 and two deaths from the virus.