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American Samoa residents stranded in Utah for months plead to return home

Posted at 1:07 PM, Oct 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-27 18:53:47-04

SALT LAKE CITY — At least 600 citizens of American Samoa are stranded in the United States, including 50 families in Utah, after their government shut down the border in March to protect its people from the coronavirus.

With no word from the government, they worry they won’t see their families and homeland anytime soon.

Aioevaga Tuna has been living with family members in Bountiful.

“I made an emergency trip last December because my youngest daughter, she’s 21, ended up in the hospital," Tuna said.

Tuna planned on staying for three months. Then the pandemic hit in March and she hasn’t been home since.

“One, two, three months you’re fine, but when you’re getting into eight months of having to depend on families and friends to feed you and to clothe you and to house you," Tuna said.

She’s not alone. American Samoa citizens who left the island for the states for medical reasons or family functions are stranded thousands of miles from their families.

“I have a young mother who lives in Provo who came here because of her medical situation. She gave her two beautiful twins. She’s here, her husband is back home,” said Tuna. “The mental exhaustion is taking a toll on a lot of our young parents who are away from their young children, the elderly. It is just enough to just crush a person."

Tuna is part of Tagata Tutū Faatasi Alliance of American Samoa – a group of citizens pleading with the government to allow flights in and out of the U.S. territory.

The American Samoa Government says they are working to find the safest way to repatriate their people.

In a statement to Fox 13, 'Iulogologo Joseph M. Pereira, the Executive Assistant to the Governor & Chairman, COVID-19. Task Force said:

“The American Samoa Government is still exploring safe strategies to facilitate the repatriation of our residents while preempting any accidental transmission of the virus here at home which will devastate our people given the close-knit society common to our people. We were hoping that the situation in the States would have improved by now but it is getting worse and uncontrolled with recent unprecedented records of new cases and corresponding rise in the number of deaths. The asymptomatic nature of the virus complicates the situation. As long as the situation remains volatile in the States the Governor would be reluctant to open our borders. The Governor wants to protect 60,000 people on the island. It is estimated that 600 of residents are stranded in the States thus it makes sense for us not to subject 60,000 to danger of the deadly virus. The healthcare capacities are sufficient to address the needs of our residents stranded there. Our one hospital cannot handle a spread of the virus here at home and we are 2,300 miles from the nearest U.S. hospital. We are still working to find the safest way to repatriate our people.”

Meantime, the Alliance has set up a GoFundMe account to help pay for legal costs in their fight to return to American Samoa.