After long wait, J’cans stranded in C’bean to be repatriated

CARIBBEAN Airlines will, as of this weekend, be operating flights for Jamaicans stranded in Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, The Bahamas, and Antigua and Barbuda, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina Johnson Smith has announced.

Her disclosure, which was made on Twitter yesterday, came just as two Jamaicans were nearing their wits’ end after being stranded in Antigua and The Bahamas since Jamaica closed its borders to incoming passenger traffic on March 24 due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The country’s air and sea ports were on June 1 again opened to Jamaicans overseas, among them an estimated 900 stranded across the Caribbean region — a figure which was confirmed by Prime Minister Andrew Holness recently.

According to Johnson Smith, the dates, times, fares, and other details for the flights will be advised as soon as they are confirmed, but she said the aim is for the repatriation flights to start this weekend.

“The flights will be open to all nationals, but you will need to be approved on #jamcovid19. Priority will be placed on urgent cases stranded as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, [including] students already registered” with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, she tweeted.

The minister also advised that if Jamaicans stranded in the named Caribbean countries had not yet registered on jamcovid19 or answered the home quarantine assessment questions, or any other information requested, they should do so, as she committed to providing further details.

The two Jamaicans had earlier told the Jamaica Observer that they were unable to return home because regional carrier Caribbean Airlines had been unable to fly to some territories because of border restrictions.

Caribbean Airlines is headquartered in Iere House in Piarco, Trinidad, and operates flights throughout the Caribbean, North America, and South America from its base at Piarco International Airport.

The Jamaican stranded in The Bahamas, who the Observer previously reported had been struggling and down to her last US$50, said following the story she was given approval to return home under the Government’s controlled re-entry programme.

“I was excited. I called Caribbean Airlines to find out about flights to rebook my ticket, but they told me that there were no flights available for June. They are telling me that Trinidad is still on lockdown, so without the Government lifting the ban then we won’t be able to get a flight out unless our Jamaican Government has another way of getting us out,” she said.

After learning yesterday that The Bahamas is one of the countries from which Caribbean Airlines flights will be repatriating Jamaicans, she contacted the airline but was told that the flights are only for students.

“This a get me so frustrated right now. Mi stress out. Mi need fi get off of this island. Mi cyaan bother; too much run around just fi go home,” the Jamaican, who did not wish to be identified, said yesterday.

Antigua and Barbuda last week Monday became the first Caribbean Community country to reopen its international airport.

The Jamaican woman stranded in that country since January, said she was scheduled to depart on March 26.

“Antigua border opened for international flights and Jamaica is now the same [for nationals], but Trinidad and Tobago hasn’t opened their borders and Barbados hasn’t opened their borders yet. Trinidad is where Caribbean Airlines is based and they have to stop in Barbados for fuel, so we cannot get home because of this. I just came here on vacation and now I’m stuck.

“When they said that the border was closing I went to the airport on the 23rd to see if I could arrange to get a flight to get home. Caribbean Airlines [flights were] cancelled. Antigua flights only leave Tuesdays and Thursdays, so we didn’t have any other choice. Now I cannot get home, and I can tell you it has been rough…I couldn’t stay at my hotel any longer because I couldn’t afford it, and I was staying with a friend, and now it’s ‘Yuh nuh hear anything yet?’ So you know that means to hurry up and leave,” she divulged.

The woman, who said she owns several businesses in Jamaica, has had to ask family members to send her money earned from the businesses.

“Last month none (money) came. It has been rough. It has been very hard. Sometimes they look on us and tell us wi Government forsake wi. Fi have your people them outside as refugees in other countries, what yuh expect other people to do to wi? It is not nice; none at all. I have sleepless nights,” the woman said, sharing that she will be seeking mental evaluation when she returns to the country.

“I am not used to being away from my family, my mother, this long. I’m a family person; I am the breadwinner for my family. This is driving me crazy. Yuh praying for better days and yuh hoping for better days, and it’s like dem not coming,” she said.

Another Jamaican, who has been stranded in Guyana, which is not listed among the countries from which repatriation flights will be available, is making alternative arrangements.

“My biggest problem is that I am faced with a medical issue and I have been trying to reach out to persons in Government for a very long while, and it has not been nice,” one of the Jamaicans, who said that she has been stranded in Guyana since March 9, shared.

The civil servant, who has asked not to be identified, said that she suffered spinal injury years ago, which required two surgeries. She was scheduled to do a third last month, but the closure of Jamaica’s borders up until last week Monday and the difficulty faced to now get a return flight have dashed her hopes of completing the medical procedure any time soon.

“I am constantly in pain. At times it’s worse than you can imagine. I’ve managed to network with some people here and got someone to prescribe some medication for me that has been helping me with easing the pain, but that’s only a quick fix. So hopefully I’ll get to reach home soon to get medical attention,” she stated, noting that she was in the Caribbean country on vacation.

She was scheduled to return to the island on March 21, the date initially given by Holness for the closure of the ports.

But the troubles began days before, when Trinidad and Tobago’s Government announced the closure of its borders for March 22.

The country is currently undergoing a phased reopening of its economy, halted by COVID-19, with media reports suggesting that the borders will be reopened to international travel sometime this month.

“Our flight goes through Trinidad, so that was the first major issue for me. They would have closed their borders before our borders were closed, and that was the biggest issue. And if they were to organise a chartered flight in, our borders were closed by then,” the woman said.

For her, it has been difficult being away from family. She told the Observer that she has run out of food and cash on several occasions, but has managed to get assistance through networking.

She said, too, that after contacting the person listed as the honorary consul for Jamaica in Guyana, she was told that he no longer works with the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

“I had to e-mail the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jamaica and that’s when I was told that he had resigned the job and we are now under the Trinidadian ambassador,” she said.

She said, after speaking with a representative from the ministry on April 26, she did not receive communication from that person again until a month later.

The woman said that it was after e-mailing the Office of the Prime Minister that she was told that the Government is working to bring Jamaicans home.

She is now planning to get a flight to the United States in the hopes of returning to Jamaica soon.

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