KEVON [email protected]
“When are you coming home, daddy?” It is what Kirk Bayne hears every time he speaks to his children via WhatsApp. At the ages of 11 and eight, Bayne’s children are too young to understand daddy’s predicament of being trapped in a foreign country with no idea of when he would see them again.“I tell them it is all dependent on when our Government decides to fly us home or repatriate us. I do not want the borders open because I do not want COVID-19 spreading and getting them sick. I tell them Trinidad owns an airline and the Government can very easily fly us home without opening borders,” Bayne said yesterday.Bayne is part of a group of 22 T&T citizens in Canada lobbying the Government to send a repatriation flight to allow them to reunite with their families here. It has been three months since the Government closed T&T’s borders to stem in the importation of COVID-19. Now that public health authorities have successfully controlled the spread of the virus locally, however, they are saying it is time for them to come home.
However, the Ministry of National Security did not approve the applications for exemptions they sent months ago.
Bayne, a wellbore intervention specialist, lives in west Trinidad with his wife and children. He went to Mexico on March 4 to work on a rig 150 miles offshore, where other T&T citizens were working. The closed borders left all of them stranded. With no way to get home, Bayne went to Canada where he underwent quarantine for two weeks before taking up another job in Newfoundland. The job ended on April 20 and he remains there.“It is dreadful because my kids are young and are always asking ‘dad, when are you coming home. They do not understand that I am trying to be supportive of them. My wife is an essential worker and it is difficult for them. They are shuttled around but for the most part they are home,” Bayne explained.
“I am a very involved father when I am home. I do rotate overseas and home for work but I am very involved in every aspect of their daily lives.”
Another national, Lornetta Jan and her husband were in Dubai when they heard the US borders were closing. As they travelled to Jordan to get closer to home, Jordanian authorities quarantined them in a hotel for 16 days. Eventually, they got to Canada in April, where they were able to stay with relatives. Since then, they were able to communicate with other T&T citizens stuck there and became part of the group lobbying the Government for a flight home.
Jan said yesterday there is also a mental toll caused by being away from her family. Due to anxiety, she said she has lost about 12 pounds.“In our group, who can afford it, we will pay for our quarantine. Our group has 22 people, and we have all been back and forth emailing the Minister. I emailed a group request for all of us. I created a Facebook group, and another girl created a WhatsApp group called TT Nationals in Canada.“It is crazy because without an exemption the airline will not entertain us. Without flight information, the minster will not entertain us. Send a repatriation flight like the other countries are doing for nationals abroad. There are Trinis in Canada who still need to come home. Thank God we are not in a situation like that. So far, we are okay but not everybody is so lucky. Some people are sleeping on sofas,” Jan said.Bayne said Caribbean Airlines (CAL), as a State company, is owned by citizens and he believes it is only fair that they have access to an aircraft in dire circumstances.Before joining the group in Canada, he was part of another group in the US comprising 99 citizens. He said that group approached CAL who said it would cost US$75,000 to accommodate 99 passengers on a repatriation flight.The group in Canada is willing to pay CAL for a flight back home. However, Bayne said if a plane arrives in Toronto at that price it would be difficult.“Yes, we are willing to pay our way home but the Government will have to work with us in this situation. In a nutshell, they can pick up some people in the US and some in Canada because we need to fill the plane to be able to afford it.”Bayne also said if the Government provides exemptions, they can travel to other Caribbean islands, making CAL’s repatriation flight shorter.“Unless we get some directive from the Government we are all in limbo because nobody knows what to do. It is absolute madness. I am 100 per cent for keeping borders close and I commend the Government for controlling COVID-19 and keeping it down to zero,” Bayne said.
“I have to admit that they are taking too long. They should have started bringing people home since they closed the borders. It is our right. I am not begging to come back home. It is an embarrassment to them and me.”
Minister of National Security Stuart Young says the Government is working to repatriate all nationals stranded abroad by the lockdown of the borders due to COVID-19. However, he says the process will take time and will have to be managed very carefully to ensure the country’s public health system can facilitate the process.
His comment came in response to an appeal from a group of nationals stranded in Canada to be repatriated home.
“The Government has made its position very clear throughout the very challenging period of dealing with the global pandemic of COVID-19 with respect to Trinidad and Tobago’s borders,” Young said.
“We are carefully managing the return of thousands of nationals. We are balancing the capacity of the country’s parallel public health facilities set up for COVID-19 and the capacity of state quarantine facilities and the ability of the state to supervise quarantine with the numbers of nationals who have returned and who wish to return.”
He added, “In the last couple of weeks we have managed the return of hundreds of cruise ship workers, students from UWI’s Jamaica and Barbados campuses, as well as nationals returning from Suriname, Guyana and Venezuela amongst others.
“We are now planning the repatriation of nationals from countries such as the United Kingdom, USA, Canada and other countries. This is a balancing exercise to ensure that we get nationals back to Trinidad and Tobago but in a manner that does not jeopardise the hard work that has achieved protection for the population in Trinidad and Tobago.
We are currently working out the options for repatriating the next groups of nationals and will make announcements shortly.”