National Security Minister Stuart Young said yesterday he would continue enforcing the government’s exemption police based on public health and science and “without fear or favour, malice or ill will.”
He said no decisions were being made that were discriminatory.
“To date, the courts have upheld the system and the policies of repatriation. The system is designed to be as fair as possible and there is no discrimination as we try to repatriate nationals safely,” he said.
Minister Young said that several people were applying to, and leaving the country, knowing that the borders were closed. Yet, he said, many of them seek to return after a short stay abroad.
“Every Caribbean Airlines (CAL) flight leaving over the past few months to Miami, New York, Barbados and Canada has nationals on it and many of these persons then apply to return. These people know that the borders are closed when they leave the country but still turn around and apply to return,” he said in a statement issued yesterday.
“There are students who left in August and September to go back to schools away and then applied to come back for Christmas or due to a change in their schooling circumstances.”
The minister said that when the Government announced that it was increasing the number of exemptions due to an increase in quarantine facilities, “it was very clearly stated that not everyone would be able to be accommodated. This was done over the past month and a half and hundreds of nationals returned for Christmas, but not all.”
He added: “There are still nationals applying to return. Many were accustomed to going and spending months away and then returning to spend months in Trinidad and Tobago. They were not nationals who were stuck outside due to going out for a short vacation.”
He said reminded that from day one it was announced that applications will be considered on a case by case basis.
“At the Ministry of National Security a system was developed that considered many factors and prioritized the granting of approvals to enter Trinidad and Tobago. This was always managed, bearing in mind the ability to safely quarantine persons who returned to the country, balanced with the capacity of the parallel health care system’s ability to manage positive cases, without collapsing.”
Some of the factors that were considered in granting approvals were date of application; elderly and sick nationals; families, especially those with young children; people who went for a vacation of a few weeks and got stuck outside; and people with medical issues.
He said that later on as these categories of people were addressed, the government also added students who wanted to return home, in addition to others.
“Approvals were never granted on a first come first served basis alone. Additionally, at every stage, we maintained a discretion for emergency cases or expedited cases.”
He said it also became apparent that there were many Trinidadians who had chosen to live abroad, who, perhaps due to changes in their circumstances, such as job loss or who were working away illegally, decided that they wished to come back to Trinidad and Tobago. The minister noted that there were many applicants who fall into this category, including those with dual citizenship who now wanted to come back to Trinidad and Tobago.
“It would have been unfair to prioritize this category over those who may have travelled on a short vacation before March 22 and become stuck outside when the borders were closed.”
The minister said that border closure remains a pillar of the COVID-19 management at this time and has proved effective in protecting our population in Trinidad and Tobago.