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Thousands of Trinidad and Tobago citizens stranded abroad, facing tough times

More than 5,000 Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) nationals, who have been left stranded abroad due to the closure of borders since March 22, 2020, due to COVID-19 are facing extremely tough times – some have even been forced to live on the streets braving hunger, extreme weather, and even fear of being killed

Dr. Kumar Mahabir Mar 17, 2021
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More than 5,000 Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) nationals, who have been left stranded abroad due to the closure of borders since March 22, 2020, due to COVID-19 are facing extremely tough times – some have even been forced to live on the streets braving hunger, extreme weather, and even fear of being killed.

Sangeeta Jagdeo, a T&T national, who finally managed to return home after being stranded in India, said: ”The Minister of National Security puts it very nicely on paper, but the implementation of the process is a total failure.

They are misleading the population.”

These citizens feel that they have been abandoned by the government as they were left to fend for themselves in a foreign land. Some of them went hungry, homeless, and penniless. Some even said that they had to sleep in train stations and on pavements, and even braved extreme cold weather.

Many of them - like the migrant seasonal farmworkers in Canada - are dying to return home.

However, ministers and their families, and even their dogs, have been granted exemptions. They are allowed to leave and return as per their wish.

Recently, a zoom meeting was held on the topic of “5,000 T&T citizens stranded abroad for 320+ days.” The pan-Caribbean public meeting was hosted by the Indo-Caribbean Cultural Centre (ICC), a non-profit, independent, educational organization recognized by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. It was established in 1999 with its axiom being celebrating unity in cultural diversity in the Caribbean.

The meeting was chaired by Sharlene Maharaj and moderated by Bindu Deokinath Maharaj.

The speakers at the meeting were Karen Lee Ghin, a Trinidadian-American activist who is helping stranded Trinidadians in the US since March last year; Shallena Bujan, a T&T citizen living in the UK whose mother is critically ill back home; Gerald Ramdeen, an attorney-at-law who is fighting a legal battle against the government to re-open the country’s borders for its nationals who are stranded in foreign lands and desperately want to return home, and some stranded nationals, who discussed their sufferings as they were forced to live away from home due to COVID-19 related lockdown in T&T.

Stranded in Venezuela, Salim said that he has been stranded and abandoned in Venezuela since March.

“Please just give me hope that very soon I will overcome the worst and most disastrous time of my life, of being stranded and abandoned here in Venezuela. I came here for 10 days in March 2020 to open a registered import-export company. At first, I had been staying at a hotel here, who I now owe $5,800 USD for the period from March 26, 2020, to September end.

“I was thrown out on the street from the hotel because of lack of money to pay. Then I stayed in a church for five days, then I had to move out and stay on the streets, spending three sleepless days and nights. I was robbed of my cell phone, my jewels, some clothes and $75 USD which my family had sent for me to survive.

“Here in this country, Venezuela is facing a humanitarian crisis. People have no food, no medicine, no water, and no justice - for their own people, much less for outsiders like me. I have sent numerous emails to the Minister of the National Security, and Foreign Affairs and I have not received a response, up to this date. None,” he said.

“I met a vendor on the street who felt sorry for me and invited me to stay at his house until something better comes my way. I accepted the invitation because I had no choice. His house has two rooms, and he has a family of five, for him and his wife and three children.

“He has no facilities in his house; no fan, no bed, little water, and a small electric one-burner stove. No fridge and little food for him and his family to eat. So I have been sleeping on the ground for the past six months. I got sick badly and thank god that I got better without any medication, only bush medicine.

“A couple of times when my family sent me money and I go to town to buy food, the police would search me and take all my money without asking any question here. Sometimes I eat four-five times per week here, sometimes days without food, only water, and I go to bed without food. It’s disturbing my mental health now, and it’s affecting me very badly - emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

He went on to say that his passport expired in June 2020. “Presently, I am illegal here in Venezuela - no money, no food, no justice. I must pay that hotel bill of US $5,800 before I depart for Trinidad. It is just frustrating and depressing here every day,” he added.

Seeking “urgent” help, he said, he has been “living in Venezuela like a destitute.”

“I am a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, and I have been denied my constitutional right to return home,” he said, urging the government to bring him home.

(The writer is an anthropologist who has published 12 books on Indo-Caribbean identity. He can be contacted at mahabir@gmail.com)

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