Dr Karen Sohan-Seenath

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Former chief of staff at the Mt Hope Women’s Hospital, Dr Karen Sohan-Seenath, has sent a pre-action protocol letter to Minister of National Security Stuart Young seeking to get an exemption to return to T&T.

Sohan-Seenath, the doctor credited with bringing many pregnant women and their babies through the Zika crisis in 2016, is one of hundreds of T&T citizens stranded outside of the country since its borders closed on March 23.

Yesterday, she said she took legal recourse as she had exhausted all diplomatic efforts and through her attorneys, she is now giving Young 14 days to say whether her request for an exemption to return home will be granted. Sohan-Seenath is also seeking the cost of her legal fees in the sum of $10,000.

In the letter, dated September 2, Sohan-Seenath’s attorneys, Alvin Ramroop and Kingsley Walesby, said their client travelled to Florida, USA, on March 13, 2020, to visit relatives.

When the borders were closed on March 23, Sohan-Seenath was one of scores of nationals stuck abroad. She sent an exemption request on June 15, after the Ministry of National Security said it was entertaining exemption requests and received an acknowledgement email that same day. There has been no correspondence from the ministry since, although Sohan-Seenath said she wrote to the ministry again on July 7 querying the status of her request and sent a follow-up email on August 11. On August 23, she again wrote to the ministry, this time with a proposal for how the state could quarantine returning nationals.

At a press conference last weekend, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced he would be discussing mass exemptions with the ministry to allow nationals to come home. And on Thursday, Young said he was in discussions with the Ministry of Health on the matter but did not give an estimated time for the start of the exemption exercise.

Now, Sohan-Seenath wants Young to grant her exemption request, as she said Government’s continued denial of her return home was a breach of procedural fairness and of the Judicial Review Act.

Sohan-Seenath’s attorneys said if Young fails to grant her an exemption and pay her legal costs by September 16 they will begin legal proceedings against him.

In a statement to Guardian Media yesterday, Sohan-Seenath said Government’s failure to allow her to come home is also a breach of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. She quoted Article 13, which states: “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”

Sohan-Seenath, who received was praised by the Pan American Health Organisation for her role at the Mt Hope Hospital in treating pregnant women and their babies during the Zika epidemic, said, “It is extremely disrespectful and vile that during the Zika epidemic, I was praised for my efforts in looking after infected pregnant women but now my contributions are being ignored.”

She said she was not surprised there is a perception of discrimination against certain citizens.

“The minister cannot continue to use the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse for arrogance and incompetence. It is time for our Government to get down to doing the people’s business; I cannot fathom that the Minister of National Security has a more pressing issue than the repatriation of its citizens,” she said.