Canadians currently stranded in Morocco as border shuts down

Five students and a professor of McGill University are stranded in Morocco after the country suspended all international  flights due to coronavirus.
Five students and a professor of McGill University are stranded in Morocco after the country suspended all international flights due to coronavirus.

Five students and a professor at McGill University in Montreal are stranded in Morocco after the country suspended all international passenger flights in order to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Their flight home from Casablanca was subsequently cancelled, leaving them stuck, desperately trying to contact the Canadian embassy, located in Rabat, Morocco’s capital, according to CTV News.

"We have been trying to get out," said Anthony Williams-Jones, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at McGill. "At the airports, people are pushing and shoving. Everyone is just trying to get a seat on any plane."

So far the group has had little luck with the Canadian embassy in Rabat.

"We've been trying incessantly to find other options," said Julia Morales, one of the students on the trip. "Everyone was ready to go back home and now we find ourselves stranded."

The trip to Morocco was part of a geology project and was supposed to last just two weeks. The field trip has been part of the curriculum for over 40 years.

"Each year, the students organize an international field trip," he explained. "The idea is we will move through the country and look at the geology."

The students were travelling "off the beaten path" for much of the time due to the nature of their trip, so they were late to find out just what was going on internationally. Unfortunately they only discovered how intense the situation had gotten on Friday. By that point, many countries had already called for lockdowns with politicians demanding closed borders.

The Canadian government has been demanding that Canadians abroad promptly return home—however, professor Williams-Jones says there is little is being done to actually help make that happen.

"What disturbs me is the response of our politicians. I think that the Canadian government could put pressure on the Moroccan government to allow planes to leave that are carrying non-Moroccans," he said. "There are a lot of things that could be done right now."

Williams-Jones told the press that the tentative plan for the moment is for the group to take flight to Qatar on Wednesday. How they'll eventually make their return to Montreal is still very much unknown.

The group has rented out an apartment in Casablanca until mid-April just in case their flight to Qatar ends up being cancelled as well.

"The morale is high. We're here for the long haul," Williams-Jones told CTV News. "We're assuming that we won't get out and we will try everything to do it, but we will try to keep an environment of normalcy."

Williams-Jones said he’s been in contact with McGill officials and hopes they will put pressure on both the Canadian government and Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau to get them back safely.

"My experience with the government is they are very, very slow to move and the only way to get the government to move is to apply pressure," he said. "As of now, we're making plans to try to get ourselves out; we're doing everything we can to find flights or any mode of transport."

A petition has been started by the group for the Canadian federal government to bring home all Canadians currently stranded abroad.