2775068
Professor Alana Belcon

BOBIE-LEE DIXON

([email protected])

Disappointment, frustration, and fear are the emotions being felt by the 109-member group of T&T nationals stranded in the US after it was denied entry into its homeland, despite meeting all requirements for exemption.

Dr Alana Belcon, visiting Professor and coordinator of the group told Guardian Media, the group’s lawyer was currently in the process of drafting a response to Minister of National Security Stuart Young.

This action follows the denial of a resubmitted exemption package by the group on Thursday to the T&T Government, even though all requirements were met and some in the group was even willing to pay for their COVID-19 mandatory quarantine, upon return—a move by the Government to be inducted for returning nationals who were contracted to work abroad.

On Wednesday during the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 update media briefing, Health Minister Terrance Deyalsingh signalled, the Government was considering the move Jamaica took —paying a small fee for the country’s mandatory quarantine.

In a subsequent statement from the Ministry, it said in a release, the Government will seek payment for quarantine provisions from companies that have hired T&T nationals who have completed their contractual obligations.

Belcon said in the group’s letter its flight charter information as well as quotes from hotels in Trinidad willing to quarantine the group were all stipulated.

She noted however, there were some in the group who could not afford to pay for quarantine, but they were in the minority.

“Actually 80 per cent of our members said they would find the money to pay for quarantine if that is what it would take for them to be able to come home,” Belcon said.

The professor remains puzzled as she reiterated all the necessary information was presented to the Minister and the group was still denied. Additionally, with no given reason for the rejection of the group’s exemption request, this has left them more confused.

Belcon explained, “Originally we were thinking, based on the press conferences we were of the opinion that the Government is really trying to manage the number of quarantine spaces, that is why we came up with a package that would allow us to use a hotel for quarantine so we would not be taking away from the state quarantine spaces. But we were still told no.”

She said at this juncture it was now not understood what really was the criteria that the Government was using to give approvals or rejections because all requirements were covered.

She said the group’s lawyer was also drafting a response in which some of the urgent cases were being highlighted of the T&T nationals who are stranded in the US.

“We have a student who has ten more days before she has to vacate her dorm and then she would be on the streets. So we are just trying to highlight some of the urgent cases and ask the Minister to please give us exemption. And if an exemption cannot be given, could help be given to these individuals?”

Belcon said one of the group’s members recently spoke with the New York Embassy and was told there were 15 T&T nationals stranded in the US who were now living in homeless shelters because they have no alternative accommodation.

Asked what was the plan in the event their plea goes unheard, Belcon said there were limited options. “We have no rights in the US…we are not citizens of the US.”

She revealed, so desperate were some members to return home, they have even thought of going to other Caribbean islands that were opening up their borders like Saint Lucia and Antigua, searching their friends and family lists, to find a possible out or even if they could get hotel accommodation there, as it would be more economic for them to be in the Caribbean than the US. But she said, there was fear to even make such a move, as it is not known when T&T’s borders would reopen to those islands.

With the current situation in the US, Belcon said it was even a more frightening time to remain stranded. She said for the country to understand exactly what T&T nationals were facing a Facebook group—Everyttcitizenmatters— was formed by a member of the group who is spearheading it, to highlight one story a day of a person who is stuck abroad. But she said all this would be in vain if they still do not get to go home.

The group also submitted another exemption yesterday for an additional 51 T&T nationals who contacted Belcon.

Guardian Media contacted Young on the matter who in a WhatsApp response said, the Government had been very carefully managing the borders and the return of nationals to T&T. He said the Government had thousands of applications for exemptions to enter T&T.

“We are sympathetic to every single national who wishes to return to Trinidad and Tobago and the various circumstances that many face. It is not an easy situation. We are constantly working to accommodate the return of our thousands of nationals in a safe and controlled manner,” said Young.

He reiterated the borders remain closed as per the advice of the Government’s medical public health experts.

“We are, and have been, managing the return of our nationals. This exercise requires a careful balancing of the numbers that can be quarantined by the state to ensure that any possible re-importation of COVID-19 does not overwhelm our public health system designated for COVID cases. We are currently managing the return of nationals from Guyana, Venezuela, cruise ships, oilrigs, and our students in Jamaica and Barbados.” Young said.

He noted, there were hundreds of nationals in those categories that the Government was currently returning and ensuring they were all state quarantined and under state quarantine supervision.

“The careful management of the return of our nationals, all of whom will return, is critical to protect the population in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as those who have returned and are in state quarantine,” Young concluded.