citizens stranded

Gerald Ramdeen, an attorney-at-law in Trinindad and Tobago, has taken a legal action against the government, asking it to reopen the country’s borders to nationals. (photo provided)

More than 5,000 Trinidad and Tobago nationals and citizens have been left outside of their homeland since the government closed the borders in March 2020 to contain the spread of Covid-19.

It has been more than 340 days for those still stranded abroad.

Sangeeta Jagdeo, a Trinidad and Tobago national who returned to the country 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; been left in a foreign land, some of them hungry, homeless and penniless. They sleep on train stations and on the pavements and are facing a very cold winter.

Many of them – like the migrant seasonal farmworkers in Canada – are dying to return home. Meanwhile, government ministers and their families (with their dogs) are granted exemptions to leave and return as they wish.

Recently, a Zoom public meeting was held on the topic: “5,000 T&T Citizens stranded abroad for 320+ days.” The pan-Caribbean public meeting was hosted by the Indo-Caribbean Cultural Center. It was chaired by Sharlene Maharaj and moderated by Bindu Deokinath Maharaj, both women of Trinidad.

The speakers were Karen Lee Ghin, a Trinidadian American activist helping stranded Trinidadians in the U.S. since March last year; Shallena Bujan, a T&T citizen in the U.K., whose mother is critically ill at home; Gerald Ramdeen, an attorney-at-law, who has taken a legal action against the government to re-open the country’s borders to nationals; and anonymous stranded speakers (past and present) who did not reveal their names and photos for fear of victimisation.

Stranded in Venezuela

Salim (one name only) wrote the following to us just after the Zoom meeting:

“Please just give me hope that very soon I will overcome the worst and most disastrous time of my life, being stranded and abandoned here in Venezuela. I came here for 10 days on March 15, 2020 to open a registered import-export company.

“At first, I had been staying at a hotel here, who I now owe $5,800 for the period between March 26, 2020 through the end of September.

“I was put out on the streets from the said hotel because of the lack of money. Then I stayed in a church for 5 days, then I had to move out and stay on the streets for 3 days and nights. I was robbed of my cell phone, my jewels and some of my clothes and $75 which my family had sent for me to survive.

“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 National Security and Foreign Affairs, and I have never received a response, up to this date. None.

“I met a vendor on the street who felt sorry for me and invited me to stay at his house until better can be done. I accepted the invitation because I had no choice. His house has 2 rooms, he has a family of 5, for him and his wife and 3 children…

“A couple of times when my family sent me money and I went to town to buy food, the police searched me and took all my money without asking any questions. Sometimes I eat 4-5 times per week here, sometimes days without food, only water, and I go to bed. It’s disturbing my mental health now, and it’s affecting me very badly, emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually.

“Also, my passport has been expired since 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, more and more.

“I urgently need help here…Just living here like a destitute, and I am praying to god. I am a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, and I have been denied my constitutional right to return home. Thank you for hearing my cry.”

(Dr. Mahabir, an anthropologist in San Juan, Trinidad and Tobago, has published 12 books on Indo-Caribbean identity.)

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