The Locked in South Africa volunteer group, known as #LISA, has announced that it is closing down and handing over to travel agents to take over the organisation of repatriation flights.
The group was formed during lockdown to fight for South Africans’ right to leave the country, and has been instrumental in the repatriation of thousands of South Africans since government regulations were amended to allow South Africans who work, live or study abroad to leave the country.
“#LISA conservatively estimates that it has touched the lives of more than 55 000 people leaving South Africa for work opportunities elsewhere. We believe it’s time now to close the support groups and hand over to the travel agents who are able to assist any person with flight information as we head closer to phase one of lockdown,” said founder and volunteer lead co-ordinator for #LISA, Beverley Schäfer.
Beverley told Travel News that it was a travesty that South Africa’s borders had not yet been opened, particularly during Tourism Month, but said she believed South Africa would move down to level one lockdown regulations soon, which should see international travel reopen in the next few weeks. She added that the existing repatriation flight processes in South Africa were now also entrenched enough that the booking process could be completely handed back to travel agents. #LISA had never intended to compete with the industry, said Beverley.
She mentioned a few notable repatriation flights that #LISA has assisted with, including an 18-hour flight to assist cash-strapped South Africans stranded for eight weeks in Morocco, Mauritania, Ivory Coast and Congo. Beverley said kudos must go to CemAir ceo, Miles van der Molen, for his innovation and hard work to bring these South Africans home in an epic flight that took weeks of planning. She also noted a number of charter flights that had assisted more than 2 000 agricultural workers to reach the US to avoid losing their jobs for the agricultural season.
“Since May 2020, LISA volunteers have assisted South Africans needing to leave by providing regular updates on flight opportunities and information on Home Affairs requirements for leaving. They were instrumental in assisting airlines with processes and interested passengers,” added Beverley.
However, agents told Travel News that they were sceptical that the group was in fact closing down and reported that a number of the #LISA co-ordinators were just changing the names of their groups. One screen shot that Travel News has had sight of showed that the #LISA USA group had moved across to a new Repat H2A/H2B US-SA group, as an example.
Beverley responded saying she had instructed the groups to be closed and the #LISA branding to be removed but in some instances volunteers had been reluctant to let go before the borders officially reopened and had made the decision to continue their work through their own individual brands. In a few other cases there were some existing repatriation flights that group volunteers were still finalising and some individual cases that still required the group co-ordinator’s attention.