Susan Fenech-Soler and her husband John.
SHARLENE RAMPERSAD

A 72-year-old retired nurse, who was locked out of the country since the border closure last March, has finally been able to come home.

Susan Fenech-Soler and her 75-year-old husband John Fenech-Soler travelled to the United Kingdom in December 2019 to visit their children.

In an interview with Guardian Media yesterday, Fenech-Soler said she and her husband left the UK and went to their holiday home in Barbados in January 2020 before the COVID-19 virus was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation.

She said when she learnt T&T’s borders would be closed, she opted to stay in Barbados with her husband and wait for the borders to be reopened.

“Not realising it was going to be closed for so long, we thought when we get over this hump that is COVID, we would go back to Trinidad but of course that never happened,” Fenech-Soler said.

She said although she and her husband, who has Alzheimer’s, were comfortable at their house in Barbados, she wanted to come back to T&T and applied for exemptions in October 2020.

“We were more fortunate than most because we have our own home and we were quite comfortable, we wanted to go home for Christmas, having my house locked up for over a year in Trinidad,” she said. 

Their exemptions were granted in early January and the couple was supposed to board a flight home on January 6. But a delay in the return of their PCR test results meant they were not allowed to board their flight.

“We were left in Barbados on January 6. After being in the airport for five hours with a husband who has Alzheimer’s, if you know anything about the disease, it was just a nightmare.

“I was in tears, I couldn’t control him, it was just one thing after the other,” she said.

Fenech-Soler said there were a number of other stranded citizens who were denied boarding because of the late test results.

She said they redid their tests on January 14 and received those results the next day, allowing her to board a flight last Friday.

Yesterday, Fenech-Soler and her husband were in state quarantine in Port-of-Spain.

She said at times during their attempts to return home she felt very ‘forlorn.’

“I felt like nobody cared,” she said, breaking down in tears.

“Our Government doesn’t care and the government in Barbados, they were having a problem with the surge and their labs were overwhelmed and they could not get all the tests done and back in time and it was nail-biting for all the people who were there last (Saturday) night at the airport.”

She said being locked out of her home country was a very traumatic experience.

And although she expressed gratitude at being able to return home, Fenech-Soler said her heart goes out who were stranded abroad and struggling to survive.

“I am extremely grateful to get my exemption and to be back in Trinidad. I know that the Government is doing their best to keep the COVID out of Trinidad but at the same time, we felt like aliens, we felt as though we didn’t belong and there are people who are still restricted from coming back to their homeland, which is their birthright.”

There have been numerous horror stories from citizens stranded in countries around the world but the Government continues to maintain that it is managing the exemption process carefully so the parallel healthcare system is not overwhelmed.

Contacted yesterday, Foreign Affairs Minister Amery Browne told Guardian Media that the Government, via his ministry, has provided financial assistance to many nationals who were in difficulty overseas.

“I must acknowledge the role that many of our Trini activists have played throughout the crisis in advocating for and directly assisting many of our nationals as well. These inputs from both government and the generous individual efforts have unquestionably made a positive difference in many situations for our people who were abroad,” Browne said.