A first batch of 264 Belgians stranded in Morocco as a result of the new coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic flew home on Friday, Foreign and Defence Minister Philippe Goffin (MR) announced on Saturday.
A second plane was scheduled to leave Casablanca on Saturday afternoon, while three other flights have been programmed for next week.
The humanitarian repatriation is being done in phases from Casablanca since other Moroccan airports are closed, the Foreign Ministry stated. Special buses have been organised to enable Belgians from elsewhere in Morocco to reach the town.
The Belgian Embassy in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, was contacted by about 4,500 persons, including 3,400 Belgians, desirous of returning to Belgium. To qualify for voluntary repatriation, applicants had to be resident in Belgium and provide evidence of a humanitarian, medical or social need, Goffin explained.
The Moroccan authorities, who closed their air space over a month ago and imposed a curfew, agreed to the repatriations as long as those conditions were respected.
About 1,500 Belgians provided evidence that they satisfied the requirements, and that evidence was presented to the Moroccan authorities for approval, while some 1,200 Belgians returned home from Morocco in March.
The repatriations needed to be dealt with calmly and with mutual respect, the Foreign Ministry insisted, stressing that diplomacy falls with a legal framework and Belgium needs to respect international agreements.