American Samoans Stranded In US Amid Coronavirus

Courtesy of Crystal Veavea

Crystal Veavea is the daughter of Miracle one before the plague.

Crystal Veavea was unaware when she boarded a flight from American Samoa on March 9 that she had been saying goodbye to her family for several months at the end. A 38-year-old boy usually flies from his home in Pago Pago to Lake Elsinore, California, every month to receive polycythemia vera, a type of leukemia. But in the meantime, he was nervous about the journey as the coronavirus began to spread around the world.

“I contacted my doctor and told him, ‘Hey, I can’t come? Can I skip one treatment?’ And he said no,” Veavea told BuzzFeed News.

So Veavea went to California for cancer treatment as instructed and was due back on April 9 – but at the end of March, the government in American Samoa closed the border and stopped travel to and from the island. He could not return home.

“Now I’m here,” Veavea said. “I don’t have a family here – just me.”

Although more than 217,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the US, American Samoa has recorded zero zero cases of the virus. The remote part of the US – a small Pacific island, which is similar to Hawaii and New Zealand – is the only part of the country that has been COVID-free, largely due to the ambassador’s actions in late March to completely shut down the island and the outside world to prevent the spread of HIV.

The decision has left 55,000 people free of coronavirus – and left hundreds of them stranded in the United States, far from home, for months at a time and with no indication of when they will be allowed to return. Many of these people went to the US for medical treatment or to care for their sick relatives, unaware that the choice could mean being away from family and friends during the most difficult time to remember. Now, their income is dwindling, their health is deteriorating, and all they can do is yearn for the day when they can go home.

“It’s sad, because I left my daughter,” said Veavea, who has not seen her family for seven months. “Getting cancer treatment, it’s just a war.”

Veavea now lives in a house she owns in California, and while she is happy to have a place to live, the financial problems of not being able to work to support herself and her family are enormous. To make matters worse, she is extremely lonely and has poor health.

But FaceTiming’s 15-year-old daughter, Miracle, is much harder to bear. She loves Miracle, who is now being cared for by Veavea’s sister, just texting her on Facebook so she doesn’t feel too much pain.

“[My daughter] She always tells me, Mom, I miss you so much. Mom, I wish you were here. Ma’am, I’m in for a treat [National Honor Society]. You need my special time, ”said Veavea. “And I promised him I would be there, when I was found two years ago. I promised him I would fight the battle. I will make sure to attend all of the great events he had. ”

David Briscoe / AP

The ship at the port of Pago Pago, American Samoa, in 2002.

Veavea is one of 500 Samoan people affected by the crisis, according to Eileen Tyrell, a spokesman for the Tagata Tutū Faarehe Alliance of American Samoa, a founding organization for these people and their families who want to return.

Many American Samoans are in financial trouble and some are homeless because they have no money, but have not received any government assistance. Almost all of them are sadly lonely and miss their families.

“Some mothers complain that their young children do not recognize them, even via Zoom or on Facebook,” Tyrell told BuzzFeed News. “Some have said that their children also cry at night and can’t sleep.”

Tyrell lives in Tacoma, Washington, but his own mother, Maraia Malae Leiato, who lives in Aua, American Samoa, is one of many who have lived far from home since she took their daughter to the hospital.

Courtesy of Eileen Tyrell

Eileen Tyrell and her mother, Maraia Malae Leiato.

In September, the Governor of American Samoa Lolo Matalasi Moliga added suspensions to and from the island at the end of October, according to Samoa News. He also said that his main goal is to “protect the lives of all people living in American Samoa even if they are forced by our citizens who want to return home.”

“We don’t know if our citizens are asking for their return home, but in our opinion, they are in a better position to get medical care and advanced medical care if it doesn’t happen to any of them,” Moliga said.

Iulogologo Joseph Pereira, chairman of the coronavirus group in the region, reiterated this week, telling the Associated Press that people have not been rehabilitated because “the needs of 60,000 citizens on the island and their safety are beyond 600 or more casualties in the United States.”

“As the governor goes on to say, most health facilities are located in Hawaii and upstream to receive if they are infected,” Pereira said.

But reaching out to hospitals if they take a partnership with COVID-19 comes at a price.

Some residents of American Samoa have faced external challenges. Tyrell’s mother, a Fijian who has lived in American Samoa for many years, had to pay $ 450 to upgrade her visa to stay in the US when she realized she had no other way to avoid the oppression.

But psychological problems are probably the worst, says Tyrell, both living in the US and their loved ones back home. Feelings of loneliness and hopelessness are rampant, and she worries about this as the holiday season approaches.

“Would you think the holidays are coming and we’re left with, and the damage that’s going to cause it?” he said. It is incomprehensible, tragic and cruel. ”

One of the most frustrating things is not understanding if there is any way to bring people home, Tyrell said. He and other members of the group have tried to write a petition and communicate with government officials, offering suggestions on how to return safely, but so far nothing has changed for the better.

Tyrell’s group does not want American Samoa borders reopened – too, they want the island safe from COVID-19. But they want a plan to bring them home. He has proposed a solution to the problem, which he described in Samoa News, such as leisure trips and carrying official people.

Such goals are not uncommon when it comes to repatriating governments during the epidemic. In Australia, immigrants are required to stay at a hotel for 14 days at a time. Self-employment is forced by the military, and people cannot leave their rooms. Until October 15, travelers to Hawaii are also required to be alone for 14 days, but now the negative COVID-19 test has allowed travelers to jump into isolation.

“We’re not fighting the government,” Tyrell said. “The governor simply says, ‘We are protecting the 50,000 people on the island.’ They continue to measure the lives of 50,000 people compared to 500 or 600. But we are not against them. ”

He added, “We feel abandoned, as if we don’t care.”

Fili Sagapolutele / AP

A safety officer, left, and a hand-held non-surgical device at LBJ Medical Center, monitors the temperature of a hospital staff member before entering the room on October 2, 2020, in the village of Fagaalu, American Samoa

Veavea, a woman who is being treated for cancer, shares how she feels she has been abandoned by her government. She is doing everything she can to take care of her until she goes home to her daughter, including seeing a helper. He now has two support dogs to keep him out – two bark dogs, namely Tokyo and Bogota. “They were puppies when I found them, and now they are 6 months old,” he said.

Veavea does not know when, but one day, he will board a plane and return to American Samoa. Eat their favorite dishes, taro and salmon oka, a plate of raw fish cooked with lemon and coconut milk. They try to cook in California, but the fish just don’t sound right. “I know the difference,” he said.

But really, they just want to hug the people who missed them the most.

“I see what my daughter and my family need,” she said. “Just to hug me, and to do the same for me. That’s all I need. ”

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