Trinidad and Tobago national Shivam Rampersad, who remains stranded in New York, says he has done everything humanly possible to return home.
Rampersad, 34, who was scheduled to return home in April, says he has made numerous requests for exemption to come back home.
He has e-mailed the relevant ministries, the Chief Medical Officer, the General Consulate of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in New York, and The Registration System for Nationals Abroad (RSNA—a service provided by the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs of Trinidad and Tobago).
In March, Minister of National Security Stuart Young announced that the country’s borders were to be closed on March 22 to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Rampersad told the Express, “No acknowledgement was made to my letter and I sent another request for exemption on June 16, 2020, to which an automatic reply was received from the Corporate Communications Unit of the Ministry of National Security.”
He said he was aware all stranded nationals have a unique and valid story to offer. And he wanted to share his experience.
“I was in New York when the announcement was made regarding Trinidad and Tobago borders going into lockdown. One thing we must take into consideration is that prior to the closure of T&T borders, many places in the United States, including many airlines and ground operations at John F Kennedy International Airport, New York, and The Consulate General Office for the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago were closed as early as March 17, 2020,” he said.
Rampersad said he had earlier travelled to the United Kingdom and France, where Covid-19 cases were already increasing.
“The intensity of the situation at hand only dawned on me when I realised attraction sites were becoming desolated, Heathrow Airport was already operating on skeleton staff and AA 107 Boeing 777-300ER from Heathrow to JFK (that has a carrying capacity of 314 to 396 passengers) had less than 40 passengers,” he said.
Rampersad said he made a desperate attempt to return home, but was required to take a SARS-CoV-2 RNA test and quarantine for 14 days, on arrival in the United States.
The T&T borders were effectively closed by this time, he said.
Rampersad said he continued writing to the ministries, seeking an exemption.
“In addition, I tried my luck writing to other e-mail addresses that were shared to me by fellow nationals in the USA and the Facebook group, ‘Trinis trying to get home’. Some of these officials included Minister Stuart Young (email@example.com), corporate communications of the MONS, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and many others,” he said.
His latest e-mail was sent on September 21, but the responses came in automatic replies, stating to direct all applications for approval to enter Trinidad and Tobago to the dedicated address.
Rampersad said he was, however, pleased with the “professionalism and humanitarian efforts” of some agencies and persons.
“Although the Consulate General Office in New York was closed since early March, they were efficient in responding to my e-mails. In late July, I contacted Mr Andre Laveau and since then he has always been there to offer moral support.
“I also contacted our Consulate General Office in Miami and spoke to Mr Lyndon Francis, who gave me the extension numbers for the Ministry of National Security.
“I wished there was more integration among all Government agencies in handling the strategic plans in place for the pandemic.
“I also wished that the Consulate General for the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago was more instrumental in helping and advising nationals abroad with immigration matters relating to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), such as applying for the extension of stay,” he said.
Rampersad said he has been relying on assistance from several Trinidad and Tobago nationals living in New York.
He said groups had also offered medical assistance and meals.
“When I was losing hope, I got consolation when I finally joined the Facebook group, “Trinis trying to get home”, and spoke to other nationals that are facing similar situations,” he said.
No political agenda
Rampersad said he had no political agenda to undermine the Government’s efforts in the fight against Covid-19.
“In fact, citizens outside the borders are abiding by all Covid-19 regulations and guidelines put forward by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Caribbean Airlines website and the Government of Trinidad and Tobago in order to ensure and maintain our safety and get back home to our friends and family,” he said.
Rampersad said he had already taken six Covid-19 tests—including SARS-CoV-2 RNA (nasal swab), SARS-CoV-2 serology, antibodies (blood) and POC rapid Covid-19 PCR.
“I took a Covid-19 test every time I heard of a possible repatriation flight. My recent Covid-19 test was done on September 20, 2020, in hope that I would have been on the repatriation flight that left New York on Wednesday, September 23, 2020.
“The aim of doing this is to assist the Government in determining how they should consider my choice of quarantine (high/medium/low risk) and possibly expedite processing through the airport,” he said.
Rampersad said he was willing to cooperate with the Government and CMO, on arrival in Trinidad. However, he said, he has no extra resources to pay for State-supervised-quarantine.
Family in action
Rampersad said while the prolonged wait for repatriation had caused him financial strain and mental health decline, his family in Trinidad was also distressed by the separation.
His sisters, he said, had developed a “micro-repatriation plan” to assist him.
“Our plan is distinctly divided: one sister deals with all travel matters and tracks all CAL repatriation flights to the US, while another sister makes all the calls to the Ministry of National Security to seek information on the status of my exemption letter since it is costly for me to make international calls from New York.
“My third sister keeps us updated with all press conferences, media releases and Covid-19 news from the Government and, upon my return, her residence will be used as my personal quarantine unit before I reunite with everyone. My brothers- in-laws are auxiliary support to my sisters’ efforts,” he said.
His parents are both retired public servants and need him at home.
“Sometimes when my mom calls me, I do not know how to answer the call. Both my parents served a total of 88 years as public servants.
“They previously endured time away from me when I was on an international scholarship in India, and they prepared me for the world in the best way they could have done.
“When I speak to my mom, she optimistically says, ‘Son, this is probably a time you have to go through, have patience.’ This makes me very emotional, and I try to keep our conversations brief in order to hide my emotions,” he said.