With indications this week by the Government that it has developed a protocol for the controlled re-entry of citizens into the country, the 36 Jamaican students stranded in Barbados for nearly two months are renewing their call to be allowed to return home.
The students, most of whom reside on the halls of The University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill campus have, since March, been pleading with the Government to consider their plight.
Jamaica closed its airports to incoming passenger flights on March 24 as part of measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). However, the Government this week announced that it has developed a protocol for the controlled re-entry of Jamaicans into the country.
It said the island’s airports and seaports will, however, remain closed until May 31.
Yesterday, though, more than 20 Jamaicans who were stuck in Antigua returned home and were immediately placed in quarantine.
On Thursday Thacher Loutin, guild president of the Cave Hill campus, commenting on the announcement by the Jamaican Government, said the group was ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
“I am beseeching the Government to put the Jamaican students in the travel plans to return home; we are packed and ready. The greatest asset of any country is its people. Jamaica is known for being the number one Caribbean destination and that is not just because of its natural beauty but primarily due to the fact that we go the extra mile to make our visitors feel welcome. Unfortunately, it would appear that studying in Barbados has now made us a liability to our beloved country and as such, we are no longer welcomed. I hasten to remind you that we are still proud Jamaicans, longing to return to our homeland during this COVID-19 pandemic,” Loutin said.
Pointing out that the governments of several countries have already made provisions resulting in their student nationals being flown out of Barbados even though that country too has closed its borders, Loutin said “it is really heart-rending to see other Caribbean countries making every effort to get their citizens home to be with their family and loved ones, yet Jamaicans are literally begging to be accommodated on a flight home. I have seen other countries successfully get their citizens home. This is not because they are in any way better than Jamaica but because their government has struck that delicate balance of taking care of all its citizens, including those who are temporarily working or studying in other countries”.
“It is our intention to return to Jamaica upon completion of our studies, as service above self is paramount. Hence, it is quite discouraging to see that this international health crisis has now made us outcasts to our own country. I can unashamedly say our meagre resources have now been depleted. We do not have the luxury of receiving financial assistance from family members, as we do not have access to remittance services. Our only hope is to return to our country and be with our family,” she said further.
Loutin said the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the students’ physical health and finances.
“On behalf of Jamaican students and the other Jamaicans here in Barbados, who were once gainfully employed, I beseech you to relieve us of this additional burden by making the necessary arrangements to at least get us transported to Jamaica,” she added.
On Monday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness had said the Administration was sympathetic towards the thousands of Jamaicans stranded overseas. However, the Government had not yet settled on a date for the re-entry of citizens.
“I need to get from the Ministry of Health how soon they can build up their capacity in order to service any mass, controlled re-entry of Jamaicans. That will take some time. I can’t say when, and I don’t want to give any date to which I will be held, but we are working as much as we can to get it done,” Holness assured.
Under the Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) (No 4) Order, 2020 which were this week presented to Parliament, select individuals limited to Jamaican citizens and persons or categories of persons, authorised in writing by the minister responsible for immigration, subject to the prior approval of the Cabinet, will be permitted entry up to May 31. However each person who enters will be tested for COVID-19. In addition, any person who, on or after April 22, 2020, has been permitted to enter Jamaica under the Immigration Restriction (Commonwealth Citizens) Act or the Aliens Act, shall remain in quarantine, at a facility designated by the Government, or such other place as may be directed by an authorised officer (which could be that person’s abode or place of residence, including the yard), for a period of 14 days beginning from the date on which that person was permitted to enter Jamaica. The person must also comply with all applicable directions given, and requirements imposed by an authorised officer.
Loutin said despite reaching out to the prime minister on social media, as well as several Cabinet members, some of them Cave Hill alumni, no response has been received.
The students’ hopes had been pinned on Trinidadian carrier Caribbean Airlines as a means of escaping the crisis but that airline has grounded its flights to Barbados due to the outbreak. Other airlines which service the Caribbean such as Liat and Air Antilles have also made changes to their flight arrangements.
A notice on Caribbean Airline’s official wesbite page said consequent on the Government of Trinidad and Tobago announcing the closure of its borders to all international commercial services on March 23 until further notice, the airline has restricted all international flights but will continue domestic operations.
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