Regional: No exemption for Trini students to return home

Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister, Dr Keith Rowley
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By Barbados Today

Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has given his clearest indication to date that the 13 University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill Campus students of that country will not be given any exemption to return home.

At the same time, Rowley has rubbished any claims that there was any acrimonious relationship between Port of Spain and Bridgetown.

However, the students have expressed shock at his position for them to continue to “shelter in place”, saying they felt like the “third lamb” crying out for help from a government without a heart.

During a media briefing on Saturday, Rowley made it clear there was no fallout between his Minister of National Security Stuart Young and Barbados.

“Let me start with that. The relationship between Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago is as good as it has ever been. And Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados remain very close brothers and sisters,” said Rowley.

“If there is a difference of opinion on a matter, that is not a fallout. And of course I know where that stoking is coming from. As far as we are concerned, we have no problem with Barbados, and for those who think there is a problem with Trinidad and Tobago you are mistaken. The relationship between Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago is as good as it has ever been,” he stressed.

Earlier this week Young had indicated that Trinidad’s Foreign Affairs Ministry had sent a letter to “a CARICOM neighbour” asking that nation not to allow its office to be used as a “spring board” for Trinidad and Tobago nationals seeking to return to Port of Spain.

It was later revealed that Barbados was the country accused of using its “good offices” to compromise the border security by attempting to repatriate a group of globetrotting Trinidadian tourists, stranded here while they were making their way back home when their homeland closed its border in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.I

Those 33 senior citizens have since been home, and Rowley said on Saturday that they were in quarantine.

But in pushing back against Trinidad’s complaints about the issue, Barbados’ Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Ministry Senator Dr Jerome Walcott said far from attempting to breach Trinidad’s national security, it has been seeking to provide humanitarian assistance to the group of elderly Trinidadians who were barred from returning home from holiday.

The response said Barbados finds it “regrettable that almost exactly one week later, the Minister of National Security of Trinidad and Tobago … would issue a public statement making reference to countries, which have failed to respect the border policy of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago; and which, in his words, have permitted their good offices to be used by persons who are intent on compromising Trinidad and Tobago’s current border measures”.

As he addressed the issue on Saturday, Rowley insisted that he would be keeping the borders to Port of Spain closed so he could “keep those within our borders safe”.

Stating that it was not an easy decision, Rowley said: “There is no doubt I know there will be lots of requests to the minister of national security for persons to come in. We just want you to understand as much as we would like everybody to come home, there is a virus to be kept out and a protocol to be followed”.

“I want that to be very clear. We are not going to compromise the people of Trinidad and Tobago to please any [individual] interest other than the interest of the people of Trinidad and Tobago – the national interest is paramount,” he said.

Making specific reference to the university students, Rowley said: “The initial intention was to bring them home and for many reasons we couldn’t get a consensus and an arrangement to bring them so we decided that what we will do is to provide them with some sustenance where they are”.

“So the minister of finance has taken steps that by Monday we should begin to send some financial help to the students on campuses where the government of Trinidad and Tobago has liabilities and responsibilities. The University of the West Indies is a government institution and therefore we use that as a yard stick by which we will identify and provide assistance to our children to make sure they have food and they are cared for in the territories in which they are, shelter in place,” he said.

However, the spokeswoman for the group hit back immediately, telling Barbados TODAY she was disappointed he would dismiss their plea to return home to be with family even as the government continued to examine other cases, and other regional governments continue to fly their students home.

The final year law student, Shantal Seecharan said the students were not even aware that the Trinidad government was seeking to get a consensus, adding that with just a few days to go before the financial care package arrive in Barbados, there was still very little information on “the procedures to which we will be getting the financial assistance”.

“We have no word on that. All we know is that the information was sent from UWI to our government on Friday, but no one has reached out to us.

“We are the third lamb and we need to have the milk of the government’s kindness. We are calling our government to have a heart. So we are still pleading that we want to come home and our general consensus is that we want to come home. We continue to feel abandoned by our government,” she said.

“We were all unaware of this consensus because no one asked us any question or garnered any information from us. So we are very surprised at that assertion that he made. However, we have full consensus among us and that is, we want to come home. That is our consensus right now,” she insisted.

She said the government’s latest comments have raised several questions.

“We are wondering, is it a case where we will never be able to come home … we are all aware that there are quarantine arrangements available to protect the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago so we are confused by his statement. We want to know if we are not part of national interest, the students of the University of the West Indies. This is more than a serious inconvenience to us.

“It is very heart-breaking that he is saying they want to protect the nationals of Trinidad and Tobago but telling us to keep shelter and that our wellbeing will be protected in whatever country we are in, but we don’t want to be a burden to Barbados,” said Seecharan, while pointing out that most of the students were staying off Campus.

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