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Fitzgerald Hinds

Youth Development and National Service Minister Fitzgerald Hinds has come out in defence of the Government’s exemption process which requires citizens of this country to apply to the Ministry of National Security for permission to return home much to the annoyance of stranded nationals and their loved ones.

Hinds made his statement in a WhatsApp group called T&T Citizens Overseas, where many stranded citizens vent their frustration on a daily basis about being stuck abroad.

Yesterday morning, Hinds posted the following comment in the group: “Our borders were closed like many other countries of the world! And for obviously good reason ! We went a bit further AND BETTER, to allow for exceptions; and these exceptions required “exemptions”. While I am not sure whether we are the only country in the world with a system of exemptions, I am sure that our management of our borders was critical to the management of the virus; and equally critical to our enviable statistics! Some who did not do what we did, are in deadly trouble today; fearful of their health systems being overrun.”

His comment drew condemnation from many of the members though as they argued that the process was flawed and inconsistent.

“What if I told you my friend applied for an exemption on December 28 2020 and he’s on the next flight to Trinidad?” one member wrote.

Another cited another person who applied on November 26 and was able to board a flight to return to Trinidad on December 9.

“It’s like the lottery,” another member wrote.

Another member questioned the ‘process’ saying, “How can the government sit back and talk about an exemption process that has practically created unnecessary distress financially while people stranded suffering in other countries?”

Since the border closure was announced in late March last year, there have been numerous complaints from stranded citizens.

There were claims that many had lost their jobs, their rented apartments and were struggling both financially and emotionally in foreign countries.

Guardian Media checked a listing of countries on a travel website, which provided the border-status of countries around the world.

The countries were grouped by the following criteria: “Completely closed: The borders are open only for citizens, residents returning home, or other people with essential duties”, “Partially closed: The borders are open for some travellers, usually depending on their citizenship or the countries they are coming from” and “No restrictions: There are no general entry restrictions, but the domestic recommendations may change into restrictions.”

T&T was listed as one with its borders completely closed.

Under each countries profile, there was a breakdown of domestic and foreign travel. Most countries did not list an exemption policy for returning nationals but restrictions were listed for non-nationals.

The head of the T&T Citizens Overseas group, Gary Mahabir, responded to Hinds’ statements in the group, saying, “Brother Hinds, it’s good to hear from you and have your participation. We have no problem with the Government managing the borders but must take into consideration that we have people who were on short trips with limited resources. What I am calling for is that we expand the quarantine resources to accommodate the demands for citizens needing to return.”

When contacted by Guardian Media, Mahabir repeated his call for the exemption process to be scrapped.

“Locking out my people outside in midst of a pandemic to further expose and endanger them is totally unacceptable. I am calling for an extraction strategy and the government should expedite resources to rescue my people ASAP!” Mahabir said.

Hinds only responded to one comment on his statement.

He was commended for his bravery in speaking out in the group by one member.

He added the Government’s policy was not guided by malice or ill-will.

“Be assured that we do understand that there has been much inconvenience, discomfort and loss suffered by individuals and families as a result of the pandemic and our human need to survive and live. We consider that we have done reasonably well in managing the outfalls. We do not claim perfection! But we claim honesty, common sense and a genuine desire to serve the widest public interest.”