US Mission India Now on ‘Voluntary Departure’ for Family Members of USG Employees (Updated)

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Update 4/29/21 at 8:23 PST : The State Department’s official word on US Mission India’s authorized departure via the DPB of April 29, 2021:

QUESTION: The – in addition to this aid, you guys put out this new travel notice, travel alert today, which mentioned the authorized departure for families of U.S. government personnel at the embassy and the, what is it, four consulates. I’m just curious. Is this by popular demand? Were there people – and I know you don’t want to get into numbers or anything, but were people wanting to leave and have people left already under this – the authorized departure?

MR PRICE: Well, thanks for that question. And I think it’s important to speak for just a moment about what this was and importantly what this was not. Out of an abundance of caution, the Department of State authorized the voluntary departure, so-called authorized departure, of family members of embassy – at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi and the consulates throughout the country. Authorized departure doesn’t force anyone to leave; it doesn’t require anyone to leave. It gives these family members the option to depart if they wish. Departure, again, is not required.

There’s also been I think some misreporting, perhaps a misperception, that we provided revised guidance to private American citizens in India. That is not true. There was a pro forma reissuance of the travel advisory, the level four travel advisory that had previously been in effect, given COVID not only in India but also globally as well.

QUESTION: Yeah, but are people taking advantage of it? Were people wanting this, or was it just decided from here and from the ambassador or whoever the charge is that this would be a good idea? I mean, is there a rush to the exits?

MR PRICE: I don’t have the numbers. I’m not sure we’d be able to provide them, regardless, given —

QUESTION: I don’t want your numbers. I just want to know if people are taking advantage of this.

MR PRICE: Well, I think it speaks to the fact that we put the safety and health of our employees and their families, in this case – we prioritize that, and so that is why the department thought it prudent to give them the option to depart the country if they so wished.

 

This is a follow-up post to @StateDept Mum on US Mission India’s Covid Outbreak: Four FSNs Dead (Not Two), 100+ Positive Cases, What Else?
We’ve learned that four locally employed staff have died at US Mission India due to COVID, and not two as previously reported. One FSN died in November, and three have died during the current wave. We understand that there’s “a ton of infections” at US Mission India. While most of those ill are locally employed staff, there are some U.S. direct hire Americans who are also sick. There is speculation that most of the infection occurred before the vaccine became available at posts. We understand that Mission India has now gone back to Phase 1, mostly conducting work via telework. 
Late on April 27, we also learned that family members of U.S. Government employees  were approved for authorized departure, an order that allows for their voluntary evacuation from post. There was no official announcement of the order on April 27. 
Previously, on April 21, 2021, the State Department issued a “Level 4-Do Not Travel” advisory for India due to COVID-19, crime, and terrorism.
On April 23, US Mission India issued an alert that Flights Departing India Are Available:

 Flights to U.S. cities remain open.  However, those originating from India to Canada, the UK, UAE, and South East Asia (Singapore, Hong Kong) have been suspended.  United Airlines temporarily cancelled their flights on April 23 from Delhi to Chicago, Newark, and San Francisco due to technical difficulties.  United is working to restore service as quickly as possible.  Travelers should check with the airline for scheduling updates.  United Airlines’ codeshare flights on Lufthansa and United’s flights from Mumbai have not been impacted.  Delta’s codeshare flights from India on Air France and KLM also remain operational.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 4 Travel Health Notice and the Department of State has issued a Level 4 Travel Advisory advising against all travel to India.

Post has issued three health alerts since April 28:
Late on April 28, the State Department issued an updated Level 4-Do Not Travel advisory for India advising Americans “not travel to India due to COVID-19” and to “exercise increased caution due to crime and terrorism.” It also announced  that the Department “on April 28, 2021 … approved the voluntary departure of family members of U.S. government employees.” It advised that “U.S. citizens who wish to depart India should take advantage of available commercial transportation options. “
The SCA bureau is currently headed by Acting A/S Dean Thompson while the nominee for assistant secretary Ambassador Donald Lu awaits confirmation.
No nominee has been announced for U.S. Mission India as of this writing.  US Mission India is currently under the leadership of Chargé D’Affaires Donald L. Heflin with Brian Heath as Acting Deputy Chief of Mission. The constituent posts are headed by the following career diplomats:

 

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US Embassy Kabul Now on Ordered Departure for a “Relatively Small Number” of USG Employees

Once a year, we ask for your support to keep this blog and your dedicated blogger going. So here we are on Week #7 of our eight-week annual fundraising. Our previous funding ran out in August 2020. We recognize that blogging life has no certainty, and this year is no exception.  If you care what we do here, please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27.  We could use your help. Grazie!  Merci! Gracias!

On April 27, US Embassy Kabul issued a Security Alert informing U.S. citizens in Afghanistan that the State Department has ordered the departure of USG employees from the capital city:

On April 27, 2021, the Department of State ordered the departure from U.S. Embassy Kabul of U.S. government employees whose functions can be performed elsewhere due to increasing violence and threat reports in Kabul. The Consular Section in U.S. Embassy Kabul will remain open for limited consular services to U.S. citizens and for Afghan Special Immigrant Visa processing.

The Embassy reminds U.S. citizens that the Travel Advisory for Afghanistan remains Level 4-Do Not Travel due to crime, terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping, armed conflict, and COVID-19. Commercial flight options from Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) remain available and the U.S. Embassy strongly suggests that U.S. citizens make plans to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible. Given the security conditions and reduced staffing, the Embassy’s ability to assist U.S. citizens in Afghanistan is extremely limited. 

The State Department has also issued a Level4: Do Not Travel advisory for Afghanistan due to COVID-19, crime, terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping, and armed conflict. U.S. citizens wishing to depart Afghanistan are urged to “leave as soon as possible on available commercial flights.”
CDA Ross Wilson tweeted that the mandatory evacuation affects a “relatively small number of employees” at post. We’d like to know how many employees are actually affected by this evacuation order.

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U.S. Embassy Chad Now on Ordered Departure For Non-Emergency USG Employees and Family Members

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On April 16, the U.S. Embassy in N’Djamena, Chad issued a Security Alert notifying U.S. citizens of  “continuing reports of the presence of armed non-governmental groups in the North of Chad.” The Alert notes that U.S. Government employees have been temporarily restricted from traveling outside the city of N’Djamena.
On April 17, the U.S. Embassy N’Djamena, Chad issued another Security Alert  noting that the previously reported armed non-governmental groups in northern Chad have moved south and appear to be heading toward N’Djamena.  “Due to their growing proximity to N’Djamena, there is the possibility for violence in the city.”
Also on April 17, Embassy Chad announced the ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees from U.S. Embassy N’Djamena due to civil unrest and armed violence:

Armed non-governmental groups in northern Chad have moved south and appear to be heading toward N’Djamena. Due to their growing proximity to N’Djamena, and the possibility for violence in the city, non-essential U.S. Government employees have been ordered to leave Chad by commercial airline. U.S. citizens in Chad wishing to depart should take advantage of commercial flights.

The government of Chad may impose travel restrictions without notice, which may affect travel plans. The government of Chad may block communications channels, including telephone service, social media, and internet.

The U.S. Government has extremely limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Chad as U.S. Government employees must obtain special authorization to travel outside of the capital, including the Lake Chad Basin.

On April 17, the State Department also issued a Level 4-Do Not Travel to Chad Advisory “due to civil unrest and armed violence. Reconsider travel due to COVID-19, crime, terrorism, kidnapping, and minefields.”
US Embassy Chad currently does not have a Senate-confirmed ambassador. Steven Christopher Koutsis a career member of the Senior Foreign Service was nominated in 2019 to be U.S. Ambassador to Chad. It was not acted by the U.S. Senate and the nomination was returned to the President on January 3, 2021.
Ambassador David Gilmour has been Charge d’Affaires, a.i. of the U.S. Embassy in N’Djamena since December 2020.  He previously served as United States Ambassador to Togo from 2015 to 2019.  Also in December 2020, Seth Vaughn assumed the position of Acting Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Chad.  He arrived in N’Djamena in October 2020 as the Political and Economic Section Chief.

CIA Map

Related posts:
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US Embassy Burma Now on Ordered Departure For Non-Emergency Staff/Family Members

 

On March 30, the State Department issued a Do Not Travel Level 4 Travel Advisory for Burma. It also announced the mandatory departure of non-emergency USG employees and family members:

Do not travel to Burma due to COVID-19 as well as areas of civil unrest and armed violence.

On February 14, the Department authorized the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and their family members. On March 30, the Department updated that status to ordered departure.

Read the Department of State’s COVID-19 page before you plan any international travel.   

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 4 Travel Health Notice for Burma due to COVID-19.  

The Burmese military has detained and deposed elected government officials. Protests and demonstrations against military rule have occurred and are expected to continue.

In addition to nation-wide protests and demonstrations, the following areas of Burma are subject to heightened civil unrest or armed violence:

      • Matupi township in Chin State
      • Bhamo and Mogaung townships in Kachin State     
      • Hopang, Hseni, Hsipaw, Mongkaung, Namhsan, Namtu, and Nanhkan townships in Shan State
      • Shadaw township in Kayah State
      • Paletwa township in Chin State
      • Hpakan, Mansi, Momauk, Sumprabum, Tanai, and Waingmaw townships in Kachin State
      • Hpapun township in Kayin State Konkyan, Kutkai, Kyaukme, Laukkaing, Matman, Mongmao, Muse, Namphan, Pangsang, and Pangwaun townships in Shan State       

The following areas of Burma are especially subject to civil unrest and armed violence due to fighting between the Burmese military and various ethnic armed groups and militia forces.

      • Northern Shan State
      • Parts of Kachin, Rakhine, and Chin States
      • The Naga Self-Administered Zone in northern Sagaing Region

Violence-affected areas, particularly Northern Shan State and parts of Kachin, Rakhine, and Chin States are subject to land mines and unexploded ordinance. Land mines and unexploded ordnance have injured foreign tourists in conflict-affected areas, and the locations of the mines and ordinance are often not marked or otherwise identifiable.

Read the Burma (Myanmar) country information page.

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US Mission Saudi Arabia Now on Voluntary Evacuation After COVID-19 Cases Leaked #HoldOn

On Monday,  June 29, 2020, the State Department issued an updated Travel Advisory for Saudi Arabia announcing that on Wednesday, June 24, it authorized the voluntary evacuation of nonemergency personnel and family members from the US Mission in Saudi Arabia. This includes Embassy Riyadh, and the consulates general in Jeddah and Dhahran. The order was issued “due to current conditions in Saudi Arabia associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

On June 24, 2020, the Department of State authorized the departure of non-emergency U.S. personnel and family members from the U.S. Mission to Saudi Arabia, which is comprised of the Embassy in Riyadh and the Consulates General in Jeddah and Dhahran, due to current conditions in Saudi Arabia associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Apparently, dozens of mission employees got sick last month, and many more were quarantined. A third country national working as a driver for the mission’s top diplomats had reportedly died. The Embassy’s Emergency Action Committee “approved the departure for high risk individuals” but the State Department “denied” the request advising post  “to do whatever it can to hold on until the Covid problem improves.”
Whatthewhat? Hold on is the plan?
Also that “more recently, officials on the embassy’s emergency action committee recommended to Mr. Abizaid that most American employees should be ordered to evacuate, with only emergency personnel staying. Mr. Abizaid has not acted on that.”
Reminds us of what happened at some posts back in March (Is @StateDept Actively Discouraging US Embassies From Requesting Mandatory Evacuations For Staff? #CentralAsia? #Worldwide?). COVID-19 Pandemic Howler: “No one in DC, to include S, gives AF about AF”.  More recently, reports of COVID-19 cases at US Embassy Kabul (US Embassy Kabul: As Many as 20 People Infected With COVID-19 (Via AP).  Where else?

Continue reading

Top 10 Countries: @StateDept Repatriation of U.S. Citizens as of April 29, 2020

 

The State Department’s May 1st update notes that it has now coordinated the repatriation of 76,030 Americans on 810 flights from 126 countries and territories including  six flights from six countries in South and Central America repatriated approximately 800 U.S. citizens on April 30 and a charter flight from India carrying approximately 300 Americans arrived in the U.S. on May 1.
Based on the State Department’s data, Western Hemisphere countries based on number of U.S. citizens evacuated remain the top eight out of 10 countries.  India and Pakistan, both under the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) are the only non-WHA countries in the top 10 counties.

Surviving the Outbreak, Reflections on ConGen Wuhan’s Evacuation and Life in Quarantine (Via @StateMag)

 

Featured in the  April 2020 issue of State Magazine (published by the State Department’s Bureau of Human Resources) is an article by Russell J. Westergard, the deputy consular chief at the U.S. Consulate General in Wuhan, China.
Surviving the Outbreak, Reflections on ConGen Wuhan’s evacuation and life in quarantine

By mid-October 2019, the dedicated team at the U.S. Consulate General in Wuhan knew that the city had been struck by what was thought to be an unusually vicious flu season. The disease worsened in November. When city officials began to close public schools in mid-December to control the spread of the disease, the team passed the word to Embassy Beijing and continued monitoring. The possibility of a new viral outbreak was always on the consulate’s radar. Still, the working assumption in every scenario had always been that, as in past outbreaks like H1N1 (known as swine flu), it would appear in rural areas first and then spread to major urban centers across China. 

When the Chinese government announced on December 29th that the new and novel coronavirus (COVID-19) had been identified and traced to a live animal market near the U.S. consulate, it caught the team’s attention. Four hectic weeks later, ConGen Wuhan closed under ordered departure with the consulate team pulling off what some people involved have since described as a minor miracle. Consulate staff found themselves at the airport of a paralyzed city preparing to evacuate family members and other U.S. citizens from what would turn out to be ground zero of a deadly global pandemic.

Fast forward to the second week in February. As the ConGen Wuhan team, family members, and the rest of the 195 passengers on board that first flight from Wuhan concluded their 14-day quarantine at the March Air Reserve Base (ARB) in Southern California, the joy and a collective sigh of relief were audible.

Read in full here.

 

Foreign Service Posts Around the World: Repatriation Flights (Photos)

According to the State Department, as of April 24, 2020, 3:00 p.m. EDT, it has coordinated the repatriation of 67,448 Americans on 716 flights from 124 countries and territories. Below are some photos from some foreign service posts who did repatriation flights in April (not an exhaustive list).
During the April 22 briefing, agency officials note that they’re “tracking something like 17,000 people who have expressed some degree of interest in maybe getting our help” but also said that the number in the thousands is “not all that meaningful” as  “there are others who have been registered by, for example, their children in the United States saying, “My aging parents are in country X,” Peru or wherever, “and they should be getting out of there,” and in fact those aging parents have no particular interest or desire to leave.”

Foreign Service Posts Evacuation Tracker: Authorized and Ordered Departures, Post Closures (as of 4/15/20)

Updated/1:35 pm PDT

Authorized departure is an evacuation procedure, short of ordered departure, by which post employees and/or eligible family members are permitted to leave post in advance of normal rotation when U.S. national interests or imminent threat to life requires it. Authorized departure is voluntary, requested by the chief of mission (COM) and approved by the Under Secretary for Management (M). The incumbent to this office is Brian Bulatao.
Ordered departure is an evacuation procedure by which the number of U.S. government employees, eligible family members, or both, at a Foreign Service post is reduced. Ordered departure is mandatory and may be initiated by the chief of mission or the Secretary of State
Posts with very few exceptions, report to their regional or geographic bureaus headed respectively by an Assistant Secretary, a Senate confirmed position. Four of the seven regional bureaus at State are headed by officials in their acting capacity (EUR, SCA, WHA, IO).  
We’ve heard from one post in Africa where COM was apparently told by a senior State Department official that non-emergency personnel should leave with the authorized departure flight or be involuntarily curtailed from post.
Can you still  call a voluntary evacuation voluntary if non-emergency personnel are under threat of curtailments if they don’t go? Is this unique to this one post or is the arm twisting more widespread within AF posts or other bureaus.
Another post in Africa told us that its COM has raised the possibility of involuntary curtailment if folks don’t want to depart on AD but that this was COM’s idea not Washington’s. One source explained that  from a post perspective, you do not want to go on OD because  “you lose control.”  This is probably a limited perspective based on the circumstances of specific posts. Or is it?
What about from the mothership’s perspective? To OD post or not to OD? Why, or why not?
We were told that the “challenge” with “ordered departures” is that Washington is “involved in micromanaging” the termination of the OD but also with the staffing/movement of personnel. Every time post permits anyone to return to post for any reason, the mothership has to review it. Our source told us that the amount of time to review every tweak and revision of staffing would probably be considerable even if just half the posts worldwide are on OD.
We note that per 3 FAM 3774 “official travel to a post or country where an authorized or ordered departure is in effect is prohibited without the formal approval of the Under Secretary for Management (M) following approval of a post policy that clearly describes appropriate restrictions and limits exceptions, in accordance with the procedures described under Waivers of Travel Prohibitions (3 FAM 3776).” Excerpt:

b. In limited circumstances, M may delegate to the COM the authority to approve travel to and from a post under authorized departure (including travel related to rest and recuperation (R&R), home leave, annual leave, etc.) for permanently assigned employees, family members, and MOHs who do not elect authorized departure status.  M also may delegate to the COM, in limited circumstances, the authority to approve travel to post for employees who were away from post when ordered departure was approved.

c.  In situations in which the Under Secretary for Management (M) has not delegated authority to the COM, waiver requests will be forwarded to the regional bureau executive director for review and a recommendation for approval or denial.  If approved in principle by the regional bureau, the request will be forwarded to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) for clearance and returned to the regional bureau executive director for submission to M.  To provide time for the review and approval/denial process, travelers must allow a minimum of 20 working days following submission of requests to the Department for all but the most urgent medical or casualty-related travel.  Given changing conditions in these locations, requests should not be submitted to the Department more than 35 days prior to the proposed departure date.

d. For posts where operations have been suspended or countries where the United States is engaged in contingency operations: Requests for a waiver of the prohibition on official and personal travel to a post or country where operations have been suspended or countries where the United States is engaged in contingency operations must be approved by the Under Secretary for Management, who may waive the prohibition in unusual or compelling circumstances.  The request must be made initially to the regional bureau executive director for review and a recommendation for approval or denial.  If approved in principle by the regional bureau, the request will be forwarded to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) for clearance and returned to the regional bureau executive director for submission to M.  To provide time for the review and approval/denial process, travelers must allow a minimum of 20 working days following submission of requests to the Department for all but the most urgent medical or casualty-related travel.  Given changing conditions in these locations, requests should not be submitted to the Department more than 35 days prior to the proposed departure date.  Approvals for such travel can be revoked at any time by M and M can impose conditions on the traveler’s length of stay, whereabouts, and/or activities in country.  The traveler must explain in detail where he/she will reside during his/her stay; unless approved by the Under Secretary for Management, no employee, family member, or member of household may reside in State Department leased or owned facilities while operations are suspended.

Anyhow, if you have further thoughts on this, drop us a line. Below is a revised evacuation tracker, no additional AD/OD posts since March 28 but we’ve now added the two post closures, the Consulates General in Wuhan and Vladivostok. Note updated date of post closure for Wuhan.  We could not locate an announcement of post closure except as part of an update on the China Travel Advisory dated February 19, which may not be the actual date when USCG Wuhan was officially closed.
Also, please note that the term “non-essential” personnel has been generally replaced with the term “non-emergency” personnel. However, we still occasionally see this term used in official releases from overseas posts. Also as late as 2018, the Foreign Affairs Manual in its danger pay section still makes references to “non-essential” personnel.

@StateDept Repatriation of U.S. Citizens: Top 10 Countries (As of April 5, 2020)

 

According to the Department of State, as of April 5 2020, 3:30 p.m. EDT, it has coordinated the repatriation of 43,116 Americans from 78 countries since January 29, 2020. The agency’s repatriation page including countries, the number of Americans repatriated and number of flights are available here. Based on its data, we have put together the top 10 countries by number of American citizens repatriated, and added the regional bureaus for each country.
The top seven countries by repatriation numbers are located in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA), followed by two countries in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA), and Ghana from the Bureau of African Affairs (AF). Full list of countries and evacuees are available here.

 

Via April 3 Briefing, on Peru, and the State Department “looking at about 22,000 overseas still” from SCA and WHA.

QUESTION: Great. I was hoping you could give a little bit more clarification on the situation in Peru. I thought I heard you say that the last flight out would be on Monday but that you were going to continue to try to make arrangements for charter flights. So I was wondering if you could expand on that a little bit. And also, if you are aware of any countries where the last flights out are looming. Thank you.

MR BROWNLEE: Yeah, thank you, Carol. The situation in Peru is this. We had a hiatus yesterday, April 2nd. We had – were a number of flights up through April 1st. We had a hiatus yesterday. Flights resume today, April 3rd. We have several coming out today. We will have several running through the weekend and through Monday. We are talking to the Peruvian Government about getting permissions for subsequent flights if needed. And that’s an important caveat at this point, because we are finding that demand particularly in Peru seems to be fluctuating. I’ve mentioned to you guys before that we’ve had people show up at the airport literally with suitcases in hand and then decide to stay. As we put out calls saying is anybody else out there, we find new people coming in even now saying, “Well, yeah, I thought I’d bring myself forward.” It remains a somewhat dynamic number as to how many want to come out of Peru, and if need be, we will continue.

We are also – and Hugo might be able to shed more light on this – we are talking to the commercial carriers about resuming direct bill operations into Peru in lieu of the State Department chartered flights. The bottom line: Got flights through Monday, talking about more, we might want to – we might go the commercial option. Hugo, do you want to say anything on that score?

MR YON: Absolutely. This is Hugo. Yes, in Peru that is correct. It is actually the Peruvian Government has – after we’ve done a number of these charter flights from the State Department, the Peruvian government has softened and are willing to let some limited commercial rescue flights go in, so we are in discussions actively now with our U.S. airlines to provide that lift in future days.

Let me also just give the number that Matt had asked about in terms of the commercial rescue flights, how many number. The number we’ve gotten from our airlines collectively is 166 flights that carried the over 17,000, and each day that does grow – 166 flights. Over.

QUESTION: Hey, thanks for doing this. Just a couple quick questions. First of all, Ian, when you say that you weren’t tracking the flight from Russia, that’s because it was a commercial flight, correct? And are you now going to have to start looking into different options to get Americans out?

Do you have an update to the total number of Americans still overseas who are asking for help, and then specifically on Peru, there are a lot of Americans in remote areas. Are you still doing busing or other ways of getting them to Lima or Cusco to get them out, and are you considering outside contractors to do some of that work, like Warrior Angel Rescue.

MR BROWNLEE: Sure. Let me go back to the Russia question. You’re absolutely correct, we were not tracking – I was not tracking that flight, but I’ve received an email since I was asked that question saying yes, it was a commercial plane. We don’t know – at this point know why it was literally on the tarmac taxiing when it was denied permission to take off. We don’t know why that would be. The Russian Government apparently denied it permission to take off. We will look at other options for helping U.S. citizens return from Russia now that that last commercial flight has been pulled down.

The total number we’re looking at overseas at this point is – and bear with me a moment – we are tracking approximately – we’re looking at about 22,000 overseas still. The greatest number of those – certainly the plurality of those – are in South and Central Asia, many of them in India. We’re also looking at a large number of people still in the Western Hemisphere – in WHA – and Africa. It’s really those three regions are the bulk of people who are overseas, but the total number we’re tracking is about 22,000.

In – with regard to Peru, yes, we’re still running what we call sweeper operations to bring people in from remote areas. In some cases this is by bus, in some cases we’re using the INL, the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement plane. It’s a 15-passenger plane, so we’ve sent that out to a number of remote areas to bring people into Lima for repatriation. Other people are being brought in, as you say, by NGOs such as Angel Warrior. But we’re running a pretty effective operation, I think, pulling people out of the remoter areas. Over.