A man from the eastern Estonian town of Jõhvi has been stranded in a Philippines airport since March, in a manner more reminiscent of a Hollywood movie. The man, Roman Trofimov flew to the southeast Asian island nation from Thailand on March 20, but ended up getting trapped in Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport when the country closed its borders due to the pandemic. He can not fly back to Estonia either, because airliner AirAsia both confiscated his passport and stopped flights during the pandemic.
On July 3, Trofimov, who is not an Estonian citizen but holds a so-called "gray passport", issued as a travel document to those who live in Estonia but do not have citizenship of it or any other state, called for help from journalists via his Facebook page, saying he has been held in Manila International Airport for more than 100 days and needs any help available to get out.
As Trofimov explained in his post, he arrived in Manila from Thailand on March 20. He had flown to Thailand via transfer from Novosibirsk, Russia.
Trofimov departed from Estonia on March 12, the day the coalition government announced the emergency situation in response to the outbreak of COVID-19. An emergency situation was similarly announced in the Philippines on March 15, but Trofimov says he was not aware of this, flying in as the borders closed.
The Philippines Bureau of Immigration then denied Trofimov entry to the country. Representatives of airliner AirAsia, who had taken him onto the island, took his non-citizen alien's passport, promising to return him to his home country. The airliner has not been running flights of any kind to Estonia however and stopped operating due to the emergency situation altogether.
Trofimov wrote on his social media page on July 3 that he has been told to wait until quarantine rules in the Philippines change, but has been given no further details. He added he has a disability and his health is deteriorating due to the lack of sunlight and fresh air.
Trofimov told ERR's Russian portal he had turned to the Estonian Honorary Consul in Manila right after it was clear he could not fly from the Philippines.
Trofimov said: "E-mails and phone calls took about a month. We discussed different opportunities to allow me to return to my homeland. Because the situation is extraordinary due to COVID-19, there was no way to solve the situation. But I can't fly out of the country either, because I am denied entry, which means I can only be taken back by the airline that brought me here. They took my passport and will give it back only when I fly to Estonia. But they don't fly to Estonia, they don't fly anywhere currently. I am told to wait all the time until flights are restarted. I was offered an opportunity via Turkish Airlines, but they also don't fly currently. So I am waiting, the departure date has been delayed four times now. They are extending the emergency situation here, the country is still closed."
He said the Embassy of Estonia in Tokyo had offered him a seat on an evacuation flight to Amsterdam, through which he could have entered Estonia, but that this would have cost too much.
Trofimov said: "I would have had to buy tickets myself. It would have cost about €1,500. I don't have that kind of money. I was told to borrow, but I didn't want to take that risk because there was no guarantee I would be allowed to leave the country."
At first, he had to sleep on the airport's benches until the airline provided him with a room. Until then he had been washing in the airport restrooms and had to get food for himself.
Trofimov said: "I am given food twice a day now. There is no medical assistance (Trofimov has issues with his back). Nobody to complain to. There are only guards, no representatives of the airport. No information either."
Trofimov flew to the Philippines voluntarily, after saving up for the trip for more than a year.
Trofimov explained: "This was my dream. I compared both Thailand and the Philippines and couldn't decide which country would be better to travel to for months to free myself of stress and the hustle and bustle of the city that my nerves couldn't take anymore. Luckily, Thailand allows for extending tourism visas to a year and the Philippines up to two years. I chose Thailand because English is the official second language here and life is cheaper than in Thailand."
Trafimov's saga is reminiscent of the movie "Terminal", where Viktor Narovski, played by Tom Hanks, is stuck in New York's John F. Kennedy Airport terminal for months, while there is a military coup in his home country, an unnamed Eastern European state. That movie, based on a true story, had a happy ending.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs: The person did not take the proposed flights
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs commented that it is aware of Trofimov's situation and is looking for a way to return the man to Estonia.
The ministry told ERR they were made aware of Trofimov's situation on March 24, when the man had reached Manila Airport, where he was not allowed further entry to the country due to travel restrictions.
Leen Lindam, a ministry spokesperson, said: "The Embassy of Estonia in Tokyo has been in contact with Philippines authorities to find a solution and has been in contact with the Honorary Consul in the Philippines who has also dealt with improving the living conditions. The person has not taken any of the proposed flights the ministry and the consul have offered and has also declined an evacuation flight to return home."
Lindam emphasized that: "It is important to note that he flew to the Philippines during a time when countries had announced emergency situations and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had given a travel warning, which informed people that travelling during the emergency situation might leave them stuck in the destination due to travel restrictions."
She added that Roman Trofimov has expressed a desire to return to Estonia recently and the ministry is trying to organize a flight.
Lindam confirmed: "He will have the chance to return to Estonia in the coming days."
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste