Vancouver Island man’s wife and children stranded in the Philippines as COVID-19 cases rise

WatchA desperate effort is underway to bring two Nanaimo children home from the Philippines. Martin McGeough's wife and small children, aged one and four, are trapped there due to an expired travel document and as Skye Ryan reports, Martin fears bureaucracy and COVID-19 will leave them stranded.

Tears run down Joanne McGeough’s face as she talked to her husband, Martin, during a video call.

“We want to come home,” she tells him.

For weeks, Joanne has been stranded in the Philippines with the couple’s two children and is desperately trying to get back home to Vancouver Island.

“I am very afraid. I have a one-year-old daughter and a boy who is four-years-old and I am afraid that the COVID-19 in [Manila] will spread a lot,” she said in a brief interview over FaceTime.
Martin and Joanne McGeough married seven years ago and reside in Nanaimo with their two children, Daniel and Natalie. Both children were born in Nanaimo while Joanne was born in the Philippines but is a permanent resident of Canada.

Last November, the family travelled the Philippines visit to relatives in General Santos – a city of more than 500,000 people, roughly 1,000 kilometres south of Manila. Martin returned to Canada in January while Joanne, Daniel and Natalie remained with family in General Santos.

“At that point in time, the COVID thing wasn’t even on our radar. We had heard a tiny bit about it but we didn’t think anything of it,” Martin told CHEK.

Joanne, Daniel and Natalie were planning to return back to Canada in March, but with increasing COVID-19 cases and borders shutting down around the world, that didn’t happen.

“The whole COVID-19 exploded and they got stranded there,” Martin said.

In the days, weeks, and months that followed, they tried repeatedly to flights back to Canada, but after 12 flight cancellations, Joanne, Daniel, and Natalie found themselves still in the Philippines.

A few nights ago, however, it seemed as if they would finally be coming home to Canada. The trio flew to Manila on Tuesday and were all set to board a Philippine Airlines flight back to Canada when they were denied boarding because the airline discovered Joanne’s Canadian PR(permanent resident) card had expired last August.

Joanne said she didn’t know her card was expired and that no one had told about it until she arrived at the check-in gate in Manila.

Martin said he had no idea a PR card even expired.

“My wife just really wasn’t really paying attention to the expiry date on her PR card. Everybody looks at their passport,” he said, adding. “I never even knew PR cards had an expiry date.”

As a Filipino citizen, Joanne used her Philippine passport to enter the Philippines but would have to use her Canadian PR card to re-enter Canada. The couple’s children – because they are Canadian citizens – could enter Canada without issue.

Martin said Philippine Airlines told the family all it would take for Joanne to board the plane was confirmation from the Canadian government that her PR card would be renewed or extended at a later date.

However, the Canadian government didn’t do that and instead told Joanne to apply for a Permanent Resident Travel Document – a process that requires individuals to submit paperwork at a nearby Canadian visa office and can take weeks or months depending on the situation.

“I have no idea why they would make such an issue of out of a technical problem and not let my family back into Canada like now and they should be doing everything they can to get them here,” Martin said.

Complicating matters is the fact that all the Canadian visa offices in the Philippines are temporarily closed because of COVID-19, which means everything has to be submitted electronically.

“That’s a little bit of an issue because I don’t know how my wife is going to be able to print and sign all the documents,” Martin said, adding. “But we will make it work.”

Joanne and the children are now staying at a hotel in Manila, where she has scrambled to get all the documentation and paperwork completed all while the Philippines begins locking down parts of the country following a surge in new COVID-19 cases and deaths.

“Right now my babies are tired,” she adds.

Nanaimo MP Paul Manly told CHEK he has personally to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, in an effort to have Joanne’s case expedited.

“I am hoping we can get them on a flight out of Manila pretty soon,” Manly said.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said in a brief emailed statement to CHEK that because Joanne’s PR card expired in August, she must submit a form online in order to begin the process of receiving help, but also are aware of the challenges COVID-19 is creating.

“We understand that COVID-19 has created a series of unprecedented and complex challenges, and we appreciate how difficult this could be for families,” IRCC said in a statement.

All Martin wants, is for his wife and kids to come home.
“I just want to get them home,” Martin he said.
Nicholas PescodNicholas Pescod

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