Chinese consulate helps stranded students at Zurich airport
Published: Jun 03, 2020 10:58 PM

Photo: AFP

As the pandemic and protests against racism escalate in the US and in other Western countries, panic has risen among Chinese students studying overseas. A growing number of students have tried to fly back to China, but have suffered from flight cancellations or sometimes been stranded in a transit airport. 

In a latest development, 17 were stuck in Zurich Airport and receiving help from the Chinese consulate general on Wednesday.

China's Consulate General in Zurich and for the Principality of Liechtenstein told the Global Times on Wednesday that they received a consulate protection call from 21 Chinese stranded in Zurich Airport as they could not board a flight due to local epidemic-control measures. 

Among them, 17 are Chinese students studying overseas. 

The consulate general immediately assigned staff with protective kits and food to help the compatriots, and arranged accommodations for them.

The consulate general have been negotiating with the airport and other related parties on the stranded students for next trip. "We are trying to make a reasonable, compliant and safe plan for them," said a staff member of the consulate general.

The response came after an article on a WeChat official account for the Chinese student community in North America said early Wednesday morning that 22 Chinese students are stranded at Zurich Airport.

The article said the students had planned to travel from cities in the US to New York and fly to Switzerland by Swiss International Airlines, and fly back to China via Singapore's Changi Airport.

However, when they arrived in Zurich and were about to transfer to Singapore, they were informed that they could not board, as Swiss International Airlines has not been permitted to fly through Changi Airport, said the article.

Singapore on May 20 announced that transit passengers would again be allowed starting June 2, media reported.

Although the specific requirements and details for transit passengers have not been released, many students are still eager to go home, the WeChat article  said.

The stranded students are likely to be sent back to the US and other departure locations. However, many of their visas have expired, the article said. 

The incident sparked concerns among the public, with many worrying about their health and condition.  

Zhang Sheng, a fresh graduate of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, told the Global Times on Wednesday that he flew back from New York on May 27 for fear of the pandemic.

In the wake of the worldwide outbreak, many Chinese students overseas have to stay abroad as international flights have been strictly restricted, and the students worry about getting infected with the coronavirus on the flights.

However, the recent unrest and chaos from the anti-racism protests have thrown the students into fear and intensified their desire to return home, Zhang said. 

Zhang shared with the Global Times some details of the riots he heard of in Washington DC and Baltimore where he lived. "My friends saw armored vehicles, helicopters and National Guardsmen. During the riots, they saw shops smashed and burning cars."

Another Chinese student, Tang Yifei, who studies at the University of Florida in Gainesville, told the Global Times he decided to stay in the US after flights he booked were all cancelled. 

His determination to stay strengthened after the US government announced it would further restrict the entry of some Chinese students and scholars. "I'm worried if I return China, I couldn't go back to the US to finish school."

Zhang and Tang both expressed concerns that the number of COVID-19 cases could further surge in the US as protests continue.

China's Consulate General in Houston said Wednesday that Air China's temporary flight, CA996, which was scheduled for May 19 to North China's Tianjin Municipality, has been given the green light and would resume on Thursday local time. According to previous reports, about 180 Chinese students are stranded in Houston.