Students who are stuck in the United States for the past five months are calling on the government to repatriate them as soon as possible, noting that care packages arranged for them were not reaching those in need.
Cancer survivor Sean Samad who has been lobbying on behalf of 29 students from the US said he was stuck in New York and desperately wanted to come back home.
Samad, a PhD student studying Cultural Studies at the UWI St Augustine, said he left home in January to do some research in Brazil.
“In May I had to fly to New York to avoid being trapped in Brazil and since then I have been waiting here for an exemption. I have applied along with the 29 other students. Individual applications were made but we have not been granted any exemptions,” he said.
He noted that many students were running short on medicine and food.
“Nothing has been set up to help us. Even with government assistance which was announced a month or so has not reached us. An announcement made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but there is an application form that has to be completed and the checklist is quite lengthy so we do not know how long that process will take,” he said.
He added, “Several of us are facing medical issues. I am a cancer survivor, due for annual cancer screening and there are problems getting prescriptive medication here in the US. We cannot afford medical care. Up to yesterday one of the students in Texas had a severe asthma attack and had to go into the emergency room and she did not have medical insurance. The bill was over US$800,” he said.
Another student who is studying law in the United Kingdom said she was part of a group exemption application submitted on May 19.
“We submitted another exemption on June 3 and since then we have been sending follow-up emails but we have not received any response,” she said.
She added, “The ministry is not helpful and people are telling us we are not a priority. Some of us will be homeless by August 28, our lease will come to an end then and our visas will come to an end as well.”
She said her lease expired in June and she was fortunate to find accommodation at a friend’s home.
“I am living out of a suitcase. I came into contact with other students and we are desperately trying to get our voices heard,” she added.
UNC activist Marsha Walker who is representing more than 100 stranded students from various parts of the world said the students’ constitutional rights were being infringed.
“Some nationals cannot afford to pay the cost of VISA extensions and are now afraid because they will pass their six months stay soon.
It is their constitutional right to come home to their country and we are breaching their rights. It is a humanitarian crisis and of course, the government is acting illegally in stopping citizens,” she said.
She noted that three people stranded abroad were pregnant and another who suffered from diabetes had run out of medication.
In July Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said US$200,000 will be issued to the relevant ministries to assist stranded nationals in dire circumstances. He said students were being repatriated and exemptions are being granted on a case by case basis.