Stranded Guyanese set to be repatriated next week

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By Adia Wynter

Fifteen Guyanese citizens out of around 40 who have been stranded in Antigua for months since borders closed due to the coronavirus pandemic look set to return home next week.

Among the dozens trapped by mass airport closures in March are a mother separated from her two young children, and another woman was son was murdered in Guyana in July and is desperate to get back to bury him.

Airports in Guyana are currently closed to commercial flights with expensive charters the only option.

Robert Reis, Guyana’s Honorary Consul in Antigua and Barbuda, told Observer he hopes a charter flight to Guyana from the British Virgin Islands via Antigua will be a viable – if costly – option for some of the individuals.

“I heard of a charter coming out of the British Virgin Islands using InterCaribbean, and they have a 50-seater plane and they only had 35 people. We have been able to find 15 here in Antigua to join that charter, and that was not cheap either,” he said.

Reis explained that the 15 Guyanese will have to pay their own fare.

Applications for permission for this flight were begun, but the process was halted by the recent change of government in Guyana, Reis said.

“With that change of government, you’ve now run into new committees… So, we have started dealing with the new committee and we are hoping that we will get permission for this flight within a couple of days,” he explained.

Meanwhile, many of the people waiting to go home have stories that are making their delay unbearable.

Lona Bowen is a mother of two young boys who remain in Guyana with a family member. Bowen flew to Antigua in March to meet her newborn granddaughter. What was intended to be a one-week vacation has become a five-month stay.

“I am waiting on Guyana airport to open and I don’t know when that will be,” Bowen told Observer yesterday. She continued, “I just want to get home.”

Also experiencing heartbreak while away from home is Yonette Vankenie-White, whose wait for a flight became all the more difficult when her son was murdered in Guyana in July.

Desperate to lay her son to rest, Vankenie-White told the Guyana Chronicle, “All I need is a repatriation flight so I can get home to bury my son; it’s been too long and every day is $2,500 [EC$32] at the funeral parlour to keep his body.”

Reis also mentioned that there are Antiguans in Guyana who wish to return to Antigua.

“There are Antiguans and Antiguan-Guyanese who are now trapped in Guyana trying to get back here, and they have been in touch with me to say they understand we have a charter,” he said.

Concerns regarding their return include the availability of funds for these individuals’ flight back home as well as having them tested for Covid-19.

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