RABAT/PARIS (Reuters) - France has asked airlines to help bring back thousands of French citizens stuck in Morocco after the North African country halted flights because of the coronavirus, French Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said on Sunday.
Morocco suspended all international passenger flights on Sunday after it announced a flight ban on 30 countries.
The French consul in Morocco, Philipe Casenave, said on Twitter that France would not carry out its own repatriation as long as there was an option to fly on commercial airlines.
Scores of foreign tourists are waiting at Marrakech airport or seeking replacement air tickets. Other French citizens are stuck elsewhere in the North African kingdom.
“I have asked aviation companies to proceed with all the repatriation of our compatriots, notably in Morocco, and since yesterday there have been some flights especially from Marrakech, Casablanca and Rabat,” Djebbari said.
Other flights will be sent to Agadir and Tangier to repatriate some 12,000 French nationals from Morocco, he added.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Twitter that there would be 40 flights from Morocco to France on Sunday, with more to follow in the coming days.
In Marrakech airport, many people spent the night waiting for flights. “My flight to Bordeaux was canceled. I bought another ticket for Basle in Switzerland, which was canceled as well. We don’t know if we will be refunded because the airline is not yet answering,” said one of them, Cornetin Berrot.
In Paris, some Moroccans are also unable to get back to their own country. Aida Alami said she had been with dozens of Moroccans at the airport waiting for a flight home and that some had French visas that would soon expire.
“Many Moroccans at the airport have nowhere to go,” said Alami, a Moroccan journalist, who said she would stay in Paris for now until a solution is found.
On Saturday, Transavia airline offered replacement tickets from Marrakech to Paris, Nantes and Lyon. But there were fewer seats than passengers, people waiting in Marrakech said.
The French embassy in Rabat said it received 8,500 calls in 24 hours and its ambassdor also gave details for its citizens to take ferries to Spain.
Morocco said on Sunday that the number of its confirmed cases of the virus had risen to 28 from 18.
Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi in Rabat and John Irish in Paris; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Alexander Smith