LONDON: US citizens living in Lebanon have reportedly turned down offers of repatriation from their government amid the coronavirus pandemic, saying it is “safer” in the capital Beirut, CNN reported.
In an interview with the network, American Carly Fuglei said “it’s probably safer here in Lebanon."
The humanitarian consultant, originally from Montana, was contemplating returning to the US from Beirut as the virus crisis deepened in the city and she was advised to do so by Danish friends returning to their homeland.
But she decided to stay and Lebanon has since closed its borders indefinitely since March 19.
“I made that decision for a combination of personal reasons and calculations about the virus that we’re all making,” Fuglei told CNN.
With the US becoming the word’s worst affected country by the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s a decision many other US citizens in Beirut have taken.
The US government last week offered to fly citizens and permanent residents back to the states on a chartered flight for $2,500 per person, but some Lebanon-based Americans tweeted their refusals.
“And no, Mom, I’m not going,” Beirut-based journalist Abby Sewell said.
A Lebanese journalist responded, saying: “For once I’m like no America is not safer than here.” Sewell’s mother, Meg Sewell, replied: “Actually, for the moment I might have to agree.”
Sewell told CNN the US embassy’s offer was never even an option for her.
“From everything I’m reading, the situation is worse in the US, in terms of the number of cases, prevention measures or lack thereof, and how overburdened the health system is,” she says.
“Also, since I’ve been living overseas for years, I don’t have health insurance in the US now, so if I did go back and then got sick, I would be looking at paying thousands of dollars out of pocket.”
Another citizen, Daryn Howland, decided to carry on working in Beirut and also refused the repatriation offer.
“My plan is to stay here for the indefinite future, the fact that things are so bad in the US means it’s one of the first times where it’s safer to be in Lebanon than in the US,” Howland said. “Despite the (Lebanese political and economic) situation … I think my odds are better here.
“All of my American friends here have decided to stay.”
The US embassy flew 95 American citizens out of Lebanon on April 5, the US State Department said. According to their figures, there are thousands of American citizens living in Lebanon - many who hold dual US-Lebanese citizenship.
“The Department of State has no greater priority than the safety and security of US citizens overseas,” an official told CNN. “We are rising to meet the historic challenge posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, every day, all over the world.”
As of Thursday, there are more than 450,000 cases of the virus in the US and 16,000 deaths, with 582 cases and 19 fatalities in Lebanon.