Reminiscent of the Tom Hanks movie The Terminal, an Argentine student has been "living" in the Madrid international airport for months after changing her return flight to Argentina in the middle of the pandemic and running out of money.
MADRID — It's ripe for a Kafkaesque movie script, with no happy ending so far for a 24-year-old Argentine student who has been sharing on social media her saga about being stuck in Madrid's Barajas airport since August. Milagros Almeida has described a perfect storm of pandemic-related restrictions and bureaucracy, on top of a serious problem of excess luggage, that has left her broke and stranded at Europe's second largest airport.
Recalling the Steven Spielberg-directed movie The Terminal, starring Tom Hanks, Almeida says she has been eating and washing at the airport, buying what she can to survive.
Speaking to Buenos Aires daily Clarínby phone, the anthropology student said she has not received adequate aid from the Argentine consulate, and gotten "sick, physically and psychologically" from the ordeal. But Almeida has also thanked several people who have helped her financially, as she has tried to raise money online to buy a new ticket home.
A $4,000 airline ticket
The nightmare Almeida recounts began before arriving at Barajas, when the exchange student spent weeks in a hotel outside Rome's Fiumicino airport. Having been studying in Italy since 2019, she was supposed to return to Argentina with her belongings on June 25 on an Iberia flight from Rome, but ditched it as the Spanish airline wouldn't check in her nine bags.
Planning to buy an Air France or KLM ticket instead — which would allow her to check in the excess luggage — the would-be return would have cost some $4,000, as flights to Argentina were restricted and the country only allowed 600 entries a day at the time because of COVID restrictions.
"I never imagined the borders would be shut for so long," she told Clarin. Almeida, who decided to postpone the purchase of a new ticket, spent most of her cash in July staying in Fiumicino, before taking a Rome-Madrid flight to arrive at Barajas "practically penniless" on Aug. 9.
Stranded in Madrid's Barajos airport since August
Sharing on social media
Still, part of the story remains shrouded by mixed messages from authorities and Almedia, who has been sharing her story on social media. At a certain point, she was apparently joined at the airport by her mother, who declined to speak with Clarín.
The daughter said she had hoped for more help from the Argentine consulates in both Italy and Spain, with the only assistance being "20 euros, for which I had to sign a receipt."
According to Argentine authorities, no other sum could be delivered in the absence of proper documentation of the case. An anonymous official told Clarín reporter Javier Firpo: "It's very strange. I don't know why the two women are doing this," adding that the consulate in Madrid had asked for names of friends and relatives in Argentina, which the women withheld with reference to privacy rights.
Nor, allegedly, would they tell them where exactly they were sitting or sleeping in the airport, although they were finally located in October. Argentine authorities also say that officials in Rome and Madrid sought to help "on repeated occasions," but that the women had refused to provide required information or documents, like their canceled tickets.
Milagros Almeida showing her Argentine passport while sitting on the floor at Madrid's Barajas airport
"It was crazy. I have nine suitcases."
Almeida claimed it was literally impossible to enter Argentina in July and August, but admits "I lost the first ticket. OK, I decided to lose it to save my luggage. It was a personal decision. I could have bought another ticket but decided to wait because I wasn't going to pay 4,000 euros to return to Argentina. It's what they wanted to charge when there were practically no flights."
According to Almeidia, authorities at one point offered lodgings in a center for refugees and homeless people near the airport: "It was crazy. I have nine suitcases."
She and her mother have survived after spending all their money by receiving some food donations and doing "odd jobs" at the airport, says Almeida, who adds that she had a relapse of epilepsy from the past because of the situation. She did say she was thankful that several people, including other Argentines living in Madrid, have responded to her online plea for help.
Argentinian authorities now say they are working to finding lodging, then repatriate the women. Meanwhile, Almeida says she is "homeless ... and hungry," and trying to "sleep seated" at a Barajas airport that is getting increasingly cold at night as winter arrives.
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