SEVERAL TT citizens who work outside the country are pleading with government to open the borders and repatriate them the same way other countries are repatriating theirs.
The borders were shut on March 23 as part of Government’s measures to mitigate the spread of covid19. Newsday spoke to two oil and gas workers stuck in Suriname on Monday, and a 36-year-old cruise ship crew member who stuck on the Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas in the waters between St Lucia and Barbados.
Lawrence Balkaran, who last week sent a pre-action protocol letter to Minister of National Security, Stuart Young, asking for an exemption to return home, said things were quickly deteriorating in Suriname.
He is part of a group of 32 oil and gas workers who went there to work. They said their food supplies and money is running out and they would be completely without means to survive in a matter of days.
Also sharing a similar sentiment were 19 TT crew members on the Freedom of the Seas, who say they are among a group of 200 TT citizens aboard other cruise liners who are also stranded at sea.
Covid cabin fever
The Freedom of the Seas crew member told Newsday while all the crew and patrons on their ship tested negative for the virus, seven of the other cruise liners have positive cases. He said this has prompted a three-day quarantine for all staff on each ship.
While the crew members have been relegated to guest rooms for the three-day quarantine, and are being provided with food and medication where necessary, the crew member says it does nothing to fight the depression and anxiety of being stuck at sea.
“March 14 is the last time that the TT crew members have touched land. It is getting depressing and frustrating,” the crewman said.
He said three of the 19 were still on duty while the others have had their contracts shortened. Their contracts would usually be between six and eight months long. They were given one month’s pay and told they could leave the ship, But, they have no where to go as TT has shut its borders.
The Freedom of Seas left Puerto Rico on March 8 for the seven-day Caribbean cruise. They were expected to dock in Puerto Rico on March 15 but were turned away.
The ship diverted to Miami where guests were allowed to disembark, but crew members were not.
The vessel left the Miami port on March 18 and went back to sea. The only port open to them at the time was in Barbados, but when they got there on March 23, only the Vincentian crew members were let off.
They hauled anchor and were at sea for another week bouncing between Barbados and St Lucian waters.
On Monday, they returned to Barbados to re-stock. They were expected to leave the Barbados port at 5 pm on Monday and would be at sea for another week.
They are now confined to a room for 72 hours. The crew member said conditions are the same for others on Royal Caribbean cruise ships and could be worse for Trinis on those ships which have confirmed covid19 cases.
“If things get better and we are still onboard the ship we will be put back to work,” the crewman said. “But you can never tell when the world will get back to normal. For now, we are in limbo, not knowing whether Government would be able to take us in.”
He said the 19 of them were willing to go into quarantine if they are allowed to return home.
“Do you know what its like to just be out in the water drifting? Sometimes we don’t even make port. We would accept any passage back home. If the Coast Guard would rescue us we would appreciate it. We are going to be out at sea for another week, and when it is close to Monday again we will dock in Barbados drop off rubbish and leave again. We are fed up of being out here. We need to get back home.”
Trinis scared as Suriname crumbles
For those in Suriname, they said the situation is worsening, as time, food, medication and money is running out for them.
Balkaran described the situation in Suriname as a “mini state of emergency” as government has implemented a 10-hour curfew in the country and access to food and medication in the country has become limited.
He told Newsday that people are beginning to resist the curfew restrictions and are protesting in the streets. He said the protests could lead to a full curfew which could make their situation even worse.
He said the workers, who were contracted by different companies, are staying in separate apartments. In his situation, he was given until Wednesday to pay rent or leave.
“In order to save money we have come together to cook and eat,” he said.
“We may have food for another week if we share. One man’s money and rations have run out.”
He added that while their funds deplete, they have no access to their TT bank accounts and have no accounts in Suriname, so they are unable to access foreign exchange.
Balkaran said groceries are closing their doors and hoarding food and supplies, while other businesses are gouging prices.
Last week, National Security Minister Stuart Young told Balkaran to write to him setting out details why he should exercise his discretion to reopen the borders to bring them back home.
He said they have done so but have received no response from the minister.
“We as citizens should not have to beg to come back to our own countries,” Balkaran said. “All other countries are helping their people outside except the TT Government.”
He said two people from the United States were repatriated by their country. He also said a Romanian also got a direct flight home.
“But not our Government,” Balkaran lamented. Newsday spoke to another Trini in Suriname, who asked to remain anonymous, said they were daily-paid contract workers and their contracts ended two weeks ago so they are not being paid.
He also begged to return home to his family.
Young: We are taking expert advice
Contacted on Monday, Young told Newsday said all Government’s decisions so far were made to protect TT citizens within the nation’s borders and were guided by “expert advice.”
“From what the Chief Medical Officer informed us, the population today, all but two of the positive cases of covid19 in Trinidad and Tobago are imported. That means out of 82 confirmed cases as at this morning, 80 are confirmed as being imported with 49 of those being from nationals who returned from one cruise.” He said applications for entry into TT would be considered and guidance would be sought on a case by case basis. But, he warned, regardless of the quarantine period one takes outside the country, once someone gets on a plane they expose themselves to the disease.
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