Hopes for evacuation fade for African students on lockdown in Wuhan

While nearly 50 African countries have students enrolled in universities in the coronavirus hit Hubei province, only a handful of the countries mainly from north Africa have acted on desperate pleas to evacuate their students, with countries in Sub-Saharan Africa expressing reservations about the move or adopting a wait-and-see stance.

“We still stand with our demand to be evacuated and plead with Kenya government to act fast”

The decision not to airlift the students is being linked to fears that the move could see the rescued learners bringing the virus home where health systems are too weak to deal with an outbreak, while in other cases cost implications are being cited as a possible reason.

Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Mauritius, Mauritania, Morocco, Seychelles, South Africa and Tunisia have acted to move their citizens, while the rest of the countries on the continent advising their desperate to “stay put” and comply with control measures imposed by Chinese authorities.

South Africa, SSA region’s most developed economy has moved to rescue its 190 students studying in Wuhan, while the Indian Ocean island state of Seychelles has indicated that it would be airlifting its citizens from the city.

“We as Kenyan students in China have made it clear to our embassy and relevant officials that Kenyans in Wuhan need evacuation, however, the government has been slow to respond, but we still stand with our demand to be evacuated and plead with Kenya government to act fast,” Kenyan student, Festus Kosgei, told The PIE News on March 9.

The situation in Wuhan, he said, is desperate with people spending as many as 18 hours a day indoors doing nothing.

“This is totally irresponsible, especially now that COVID-19 is almost being declared a pandemic, any wise government would evacuate its people very fast,” lamented the third-year student at the University of Wuhan.

“I am a Kenyan, I simply came to Wuhan to study and go back home safely. No amount of money can guarantee us safety; we just want to be home. The risks here are real,” Judy Serrem a Kenyan student stranded in Wuhan pleaded in twitter post last month.

Kenya like its neighbouring Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda and South Sudan has adamantly refused to bring home students, instead choosing to support them with essential supplies, while “closely monitoring the situation” according to the country’s envoy to China Sarah Serem.

The East African nation has so far released US$18,000 to support its 97 students in Wuhan with “essential supplies” including self -protection gear and hand sanitizers, according to the envoy.

“For how long shall the Kenya Embassy pretend to be helping us, for how long shall Kenyan foreign office ignore our calls for evacuation?” asked another Kenyan student, Mark Kipkorir.

A similar position has been taken by the West African country of Ghana, Africa’s leader in terms of population of students in China (6,500) with the country’s health minister announcing that the country was ready to ship tons of non-perishable local foods for its 300 students stuck in Wuhan.

According to Farook Lalji, director of Koala Education Consultants – a student placement company with operations in Kenya and Nigeria – the COVID-19 crisis is yet to negatively recruitment companies since many had already sent their students to universities abroad during early January and February before the crisis escalated.

It could, however, hit their business hard should the outbreak not be brought under control by July this year when universities in destinations such as Australia hold round two of student recruitments, he noted.

Companies, he said, were apprehensive of the future especially with upcoming recruitment drives by a number of Australian universities where representatives are to meet prospective students in Nairobi, with one scheduled for this week already having being cancelled.

“The rules imposed by authorities on control of COVID-19 allows entry to the country only for people who have spent 14 days in a country that has not reported any single case of the disease, unfortunately, our collaborators do not meet the condition and the event had to be cancelled,” said the director, without disclosing further details.

No amount of money can guarantee us safety; we just want to be home

His sentiments are shared by Irene Kamau, director OF 3M Overseas Education Advisory Centre in Nairobi, who said that they were keenly observing the unfolding situation, hoping it would not negatively affect their business.

So far, she said, no cancellations of their placements had taken place.

China is emerging as a favourite study destination for African students, hosting a total of 81,000 Africans in 2018 according to Study International, with the majority of them enjoying various categories of Chinese government scholarships.

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