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France is trying to facilitate the repatriation of 130,000 of its nationals stuck overseas due to the coronavirus outbreak, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Friday, as the country’s ambassador in Tunisia warned French nationals they had less than 24 hours to fly home.
“The fundamental principle is that for the 130,000, we want to bring them back to the national territory, but we ask them to be calm and patient,” Le Drian told France Info radio, adding that it would be up to them to pay for their return tickets.
Le Drian urged the more than three million French expatriates to stay where they are and warned that the government was ready to toughen up restrictions in France to limit people’s movements, if existing guidelines were not adhered to sufficiently.
French officials have previously said they are coordinating efforts with Air France, France’s national career, to repatriate French nationals scattered across the globe.
France’s ambassador to Tunisia, Olivier Poivre d’Arvor, has urged all French nationals in the country with a home in France to leave Tunisia by Friday evening.
“There will be no further flights to France from Tunisia past that date,” the ambassador said, adding that the last planes would take off from Tunis and Djerba.
On Friday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU’s executive arm was organising flights to repatriate more than 100,000 EU citizens stuck abroad.
Von der Leyen added that “hundreds of EU citizens” have been brought back home from Morocco over the past two days.
The EU has closed its external borders for 30 days in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision bans all non-EU nationals from visiting the bloc, except long-term residents, family members of EU nationals, cross-border and healthcare workers, and people transporting goods.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)