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American Samoan people trapped in America amid Coronavirus


Courtesy of Crystal Veavea

Crystal Veavea (left) and Miracle’s daughter together before the pandemic.

Crystal Veavea did not know when she took a flight from American Samoa on March 9 that she would say goodbye to her family for months to come. The 38-year-old woman flies home from her home in Pago Pago to Lake Elsinore, California, once a month for polycythemia vera, a form of blood cancer. But this time, she is apprehensive about traveling when Coronavirus has already begun to spread around the world.

“I contacted my doctor and said, ‘Hey, can I not come? Can I skip one of my medical treatments? ‘And he said no,’ Veavea told BuzzFeed News.

So Veavea flew to California for cancer treatment as it was said and was scheduled to return April 9 – but by the end of March, the U.S. Samoa government closed the border and suspended the flights to and from this island. She was unable to return home.

“So now I’m stuck here,” Veavea said. “I don’t have family here – it’s just me.”

Even more 217,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the US, American Samoa did not report any cases of virus infection. The remote territory of the United States – a small island in the Pacific Ocean, almost evenly spaced between Hawaii and New Zealand – is only part of the country has managed to remain completely COVID-free, largely due to the governor’s decision in late March to completely close the island from the outside world to prevent the virus from entering.

The decision kept their 55,000 residents free from coronavirus – but it also left hundreds of them stranded in the U.S., away from their homes, for the last several months and with no indication of when They will be allowed to return. Many of these people have gone to the US for medical treatment or to care for an illness in the home, not realizing that choice means getting stranded miles away from family and friends. them in one of the most chaotic times in living memory. Now, their finances are running out, their mental health is in turmoil, and all they can do is look forward to one day going home.

Veavea, who has not seen her family for seven months, said: “It was terrible, because I abandoned my daughter. “Having to go through cancer treatment, it’s a battle by itself.”

Veavea is currently in the house she owns in California, and while she is grateful for having somewhere to live, financial hardship is due to not being able to work to support herself and her family. are weighed down. Worse yet, she was extremely lonely and her mental health deteriorated greatly.

But her 15-year-old daughter FaceTiming, Miracle, was too hard to bear. She likes Miracle, who is currently being looked after by Veavea’s sister, just texting her on Facebook so she doesn’t have to go through much pain.

“[My daughter] always tell me, Mom, I miss you so much. Mom, I wish you were here. Mom, I was introduced [National Honor Society]. You are missing out on all my special moments, ” Veavea said. “And I promised her I would go there, when I was diagnosed two years ago. I promised her I would fight. I’ll make sure I’ll be there for every landmark she already has. ”

David Briscoe / AP

A ship in the Pago Pago harbor, American Samoa, in 2002.

According to Eileen Tyrell, spokesperson for the Tagata Tutū Faatasi Alliance of American Samoa, Veavea is one of more than 500 trapped Samoan Americans facing various complex issues.

Many Samoa in the US are in financial trouble and some are even homeless because they cannot make a living, but they are not receiving aid from any government. Nearly all were lonely and painfully missed their family.

Tyrell told BuzzFeed News: “Some mums complain that their younger children don’t recognize them, even through Zoom or chatting on Facebook. “Some people say that their baby also cries because of them at night and is unable to sleep.”

Tyrell lives in Tacoma, Washington, but her mother, Maraia Malae Leiato, who lives in Aua, American Samoa, has been one of those stranded away from home since she moved in with her daughter for medical procedures.

Courtesy of Eileen Tyrell

Eileen Tyrell (left) with her mother, Maraia Malae Leiato.

In September, US Governor of Samoa Lolo Matalasi Moliga extended the suspension of flights to and from the island until at least the end of October, according to the report. News Samoa. He has previously said His priority was “to protect the lives of all residents of American Samoa despite the pressure from our stranded residents calling for home.”

“We certainly haven’t forgotten residents’ fervent pleas and longing to return, but in our opinion they are in a better place to seek medical help and care. sophisticated health if the inevitable happened to any of them, ”Moliga said.

Iulogologo Joseph Pereira, a chairman of the territory’s coronavirus task force, echoed the sentiment this week, told Relevant press people have not been repatriated because “the interests of 60,000 islanders and the protection of their lives are greater than those of the 600 or more trapped residents of the United States.”

“As the governor has consistently pointed out, there are more and more health care facilities in Hawaii and mainland states that they can access if infected,” said Pereira.

But access to healthcare facilities in case they contract with COVID-19 comes at a cost.

Some residents of American Samoa have had to deal with immigration issues. Tyrell’s mother, a Fiji citizen who has lived in American Samoa for decades, paid $ 450 to renew her visa to stay in the US when she realized she had no other way to avoid her stay. out of date.

However, the mental health effects are perhaps the most pressing issue, Tyrell said, for both people stuck in America and those they love back home. Feelings of isolation and hopelessness are common, and she worries about this as the holiday approaches.

“Can you imagine the holidays coming and we are stuck in limbo, and the destruction will cause?” she speaks. “It’s incomprehensible, it’s tragic and cruel.”

One of the most frustrating things is the ambiguity about whether there are any plans to get people home, Tyrell said. She and the other team members tried to write one appeal and liaising with their government officials, giving them ideas about how they can return safely, but so far nothing has made a difference as far as they can tell.

Tyrell’s group is not calling for the complete reopening of the American Samoa border – they also want to keep the island safe from COVID-19. But they wanted a plan to take them home. They have brainstorming solutions, which they present in detail News Samoasuch as incredible domestic flights and mandatory quarantine.

Such schemes are not uncommon for governments to repatriate their citizens during a pandemic. In Australia, citizens coming from abroad have to quarantine themselves in the hotel for 14 days. Isolation is is enforced by the military, and individuals cannot leave their rooms. Until October 15, everyone will Hawaii Self-isolation is also required for 14 days, but currently a negative COVID-19 test will allow tourists to completely bypass quarantine.

“We’re not against the government,” Tyrell said. “The governor kept saying, ‘We are protecting 50,000 people on the island.’ He continued to weigh the lives of 50,000 versus 500 or 600. But not us versus them. “

“We have a feeling of being left out,” she added, “as if we didn’t count.”

Select Sagapolutele / AP

A security guard checks the temperature of a hospital employee when entering a medical facility in the village of Fagaalu, American Samoa, October 2, 2020.

Veavea, a mother receiving cancer treatment, shares her feelings of being abandoned by the government. She is doing all she can to take care of herself until she can go home with her daughter, including seeing a therapist. She now has two supportive dogs to keep company – two huskies, named Tokyo and Bogota. “When I recognized them as puppies, and now they are six months old,” she said.

Veavea doesn’t know when, but one day, she will eventually board a plane and return to American Samoa. She will eat her favorite local dishes, taro and salmon oka, a raw fish dish marinated with lemon and coconut milk. She tries to make a meal in California, but the fish isn’t fresh. “I know the difference,” she said.

But really, she just wants to hug the people she misses the most.

“Seeing my daughter and family is all I want,” she said. “Just let them hug me, and I do the same. That’s all I need. “

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