Hundreds of Trinidadians rush to beat deadline before borders close

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Hundreds of Trinidadians rush to beat deadline before borders close
DESPERATE: Ijanaya Jacob-Brown
DESPERATE: Ijanaya Jacob-Brown

(TRINIDAD EXPRESS) – Hundreds of Trinidad and Tobago citizens made a desperate dash to return home yesterday before the borders were officially closed at midnight.

Ijanaya Jacob-Brown, daughter of journalist and educator Debbie Jacob, has been bouncing around the globe to different continents- eight different countries in three days — just trying to return home.

On Saturday National Security Minister Stuart Young announced that as of midnight on March 22 this country’s air and sea ports would be shut to all incoming passengers — nationals and foreigners in an attempt to protect people from the deadly COVID-19 virus.

Countries across the world have locked down their borders as the death toll from the virus continues to surge.

Jacob-Brown? a teacher in Sudan, became stranded when she went to Zanzibar and tried to return to Sudan but was unable to do so as Sudan had closed its ports to all non nationals.

Jacob-Brown posted her struggle to return home on her Facebook page.

She stated that she was forced to spend the night at the airport in Kenya, having been barred from entering Sudan.

“I couldn’t believe the lack of humanity Kenya Airways staff showed throughout this traumatising process. They did not care what my situation was and were obscenely hostile. I cannot express the feeling of claustrophobia, panic and stress I have experienced I’ve the past few days and will continue to feel until I arrive in my country. At least I am heading home to wait out this madness, this is a humanitarian mess of epic proportions and it is clear the world does not know how to handle this,” she posted a few days ago.

Jacob-Brown later recounted:

“So this has been my travel experience: I left Kenya to Entebbe, Entebbe to Bangui, Bangui to Libreville, Libreville to Paris then I will be heading from Paris to New York, New York to Guyana and Guyana to Trinidad. I am currently in Paris waiting for my flight to New York. It’s 6.44 a.m , my flight is at 1 a.m tomorrow so I have the whole day in the airport again. Then I spend the night in New York airport and then fly to Guyana then to Trinidad.”

She further shared that when she arrived in New York her checked luggage was lost and her flight to Trinidad cancelled.

Jacob-Brown then flew to Miami to try to get home.

I made the decision to buy a last minute ticket to Miami to wait out the corona in self isolation in an Airbnb or to stay with a friend. Then I was told that CAL will have a flight leaving Miami tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon. I booked another ticket (because the wait time when I called to change the cancelled ticket was too long and I wasn’t chancing it) and I bought another ticket to Trinidad for tomorrow afternoon. Please, please, please let this be it!!! One thing everyone commented on over the past few days is that I still managed to laugh and have a sense of humour. I think it’s delirium from lack of sleep and anxiety anyway I am closer to home now,” she posted.

At Miami International Airport before finally boarding her homeward bound flight Jacob-Brown expressed gratitude to all who helped her on her journey home.

“…I am eternally grateful for all the prayers, positive vibes, Airbnb payments, lifts to the airport, packing up of my apartment for me, information sharing and all of the people who put me in contact with friends I could stay with or even offered me places to stay. Through all the tears and feeling scared and alone I knew that everywhere in the world I had people cheering me on. I won’t feel 100% okay until I am back on Trinidad soil but I am so happy to be almost there,” she posted.

“When I move to the next country I am going to live in, I will not travel for a whole year! This has traumatised me beyond comprehension,” she stated in another post.

Speaking to the Express by phone yesterday, mom Jacobs told the Express that this experience has been traumatic.

“I’ve been very worried because she had to go through a lot of places to try and get back…all of a sudden you realise how many people, not just her but how many people are stranded and desperately trying to get home,” she said.

“It’s scary and it’s heart breaking and I assume that everybody feels like her, they just want to get home and then in Paris and New York last night Caribbean Airlines was telling them that there were no more flights, that the last flight was 5 o’clock last night. That’s the message they were getting so she felt she could not get back so she flew to Miami from New York,” she said.

Jacobs said this is a very scary time and she is sure there are people who are caught and can’t get home.

Another national also shared her story of being stranded.

Des O’ Connor the wife of former journalist and singer Raymond Edwards posted on Facebook:

“Hi everyone. I am one of those Trinis stuck outside our borders. I went to the US to assist my sister after her cancer surgery as she had a double mastectomy. She is also the mother of an adorable bundle of energy a three year old boy, and needed some help. So Raymond and I agreed that I would go for a month to assist. Then all hell broke loose. I tried to get to both New York and Miami without success, so I will have to shelter in place until the borders are reopened. I have been in touch with my direct supervisor and they are examining the options to let me work from here. I fully support the actions taken by the administration to keep the nation safe and would do whatever I can to be a good and faithful Trinbagonian.”

Still stranded

While many nationals were able to catch the last flights to Trinidad before the borders were shut down dozens remain stranded in other countries such as Margarita, Venezuela and have to remain there until the borders are re- opened.

Venezuela has closed its borders to protect the country and its people leaving about 70 Trinbagonians trapped in Margarita.

Young had said there is nothing this government can do to bring persons back home when another sovereign state takes a decision to close its borders.

Human rights activist Yesenia Gonzalez, her husband and two sons are among those stranded in Margarita. Gonzalez, who is Venezuelan born, is a permanent resident in Trinidad for the past 40 years.

Her husband and sons are holders of Trinidad and Tobago passports.

Speaking to the Express by phone, Gonzales said she and her family went to Margarita to carry medicines and food items for her mother and other relatives who live there.

She said she also carried medicines to donate to the hospital in Venezuela.

Gonzalez said the entire place is locked down with a very strong army presence. She said people are only allowed to go to the pharmacy and grocery store and they must do so before 6 p.m.

“If you go out you have to wear your mask and your gloves and come back in a certain time, 6 o’clock everything lock down, the army is present in every corner, it is very scary when you think about all of this, the world is changing and people have to change at some point in time, we must have faith and know God is making a way for all of us,” she said.

Gonzalez said she people will stay at the resorts but at a cost until the borders are re-opened.

She expressed concern as to how Trinbagonians will survive as there is need for money for accommodation and food which is sparse.

She said an official from the Trinidad and Tobago consul in Caracas contacted them and indicated there was nothing that could be done to return them home at this time as the borders in Venezuela are shut.

Gonzalez appealed to they Trinidad and Tobago Government to lend assistance to the nationals are ensure they are safe during the lockdown.

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