Dutch diplomatic missions helped repatriate 50,000 people stranded in foreign countries because of coronavirus last year, the foreign affairs ministry said on Wednesday.
‘In 2019, there were no repatriations, so this is unique,’ a spokesman told broadcaster NOS.
In total, 12,000 people were brought back on flights funded by the Dutch government. The rest of the repatriations involved airlines and travel agencies who took action after diplomatic intervention.
Officials also helped 220 people who ended up in hospital, a rise of 82% on 2019. In some cases, that involved delivering essential medicine because people were stuck for longer periods abroad.
Not all the consular service’s work was coronavirus related. In particular, officials provided help to 2,818 people being held in foreign prisons, a rise of 42% on 2019. They also dealt with 447 deaths – virtually unchanged from 2019 – and 74 missing persons investigations.
Foreign affairs minister Stef Blok said that he and others are working behind the scenes to work out how people can go on holiday again in a ‘coronavirus-proof’ way.
‘I wish everyone was able to travel freely again, but unfortunately, I cannot say at the moment when it will be possible to go on holiday abroad again,’ he said.
Currently, the government is recommending no one travel abroad apart from for essential reasons until April, at least.