Repatriation policy causing challenges for some

Repatriation policy causing challenges for some

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Although the government has resumed repatriations to The Bahamas, some Bahamians abroad are finding it difficult to meet the requirements to get back home – including paying for a COVID-19 test and return flight.

A 33-year-old Bahamian mother told Eyewitness News she has been stuck in Atlanta since early March.

Latisha Brown, whose name was changed for this story, said she is struggling to find a way back home amidst the world-wide pandemic.

Brown said she had just recently moved to New Providence from Abaco, following Hurricane Dorian.

But just as she was beginning to settle into her new life, she said the COVID-19 pandemic had once again brought a new level of uncertainty.

Once The Bahamas experienced its first case of the virus in mid-March and school for her nine-year-old had been closed, she said she decided to take her daughter to relatives in Atlanta.

However, she noted that just days after arriving it was announced that the country’s borders were closing.

Brown said she immediately attempted to return home, rebooking her flights multiple times only to receive last minute flight cancelations.

The self-employed nail technician said she reached out to the Bahamas Consulate in Miami and Bahamas Consulate in Atlanta from the beginning of April, but has not received adequate assistance to date.

“I really need to get home,” she told Eyewitness News, in a recent interview.

“I have my apartment that I’m paying rent on. I left my car, my electricity, I haven’t paid these bills from I left and it’s worrying to me.”

The Bahamas repatriated its first round of Bahamians on May 8.

But Brown said she was told she was not eligible for the flight because she was in Atlanta and officials were starting repatriations in Florida.

She said she was also advised not to try to travel to Florida or she may end up stranded with no guarantee that she could get on a repatriation flight.

“I really feel stressed out because I have my obligations and my stuff home that I need to deal with,” she said, as her voice began to tremble.

“I can’t file for unemployment. I can’t do anything here…So it’s just like I’m just hanging. It’s frustrating. It’s like every day I wake up I have this cloud over me. I don’t know when this horror will over.”

After the first round of flights, the program was suspended after a previously COVID-19 positive patient was allowed to board and return to The Bahamas.

Minnis announced the resumption of the repatriation flights last week, but many argued that it simply was not enough time for people who wanted to return home to get their affairs in order.

Brown said she once again reach out to the Atlanta Consulate which is now advising her that if she wanted to get home, she now had to pay for her own COVID-19 test, find her own way to Florida, and pay the $150 cost for the return ticket home on Bahamasair.

She said she didn’t understand the new process, given that from April 7 she was told to send in copies of her passport, boarding pass, and ticket information.

“I don’t know what they expect me to do,” she said.

“How long I’m supposed to hold on in this type of predicament? The thing about it is they being so blunt…No kind of assistance.”

Brown stressed the challenges in taking a COVID-19 test – which is only valid for 10 days – getting the results after four days and then trying to make it to Florida for the next flight – which has still not been announced.

“It’s so frustrating because even if I try there’s no point,” she said.

“The time doesn’t line up. Its almost like they give you no rope. It’s like what I’m supposed to do”

Despite the continuous roadblocks, Brown said she won’t stop trying until she gets her and her daughter back home.

She noted that even though she is concerned that The Bahamas remains in a state of emergency, with 24-hour curfew, weekend lockdowns, and limited commercial activity, it’s the only place she wants to be.

“I left everything with the intention to come right back,” she added.

“I didn’t expect to be here for over two months.”

Some 135 nationals and residents, as well as three infants, returned to The Bahamas on May 23.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Bahamasair flight traveled from Fort Lauderdale to Grand Bahama, where 60 persons disembarked.

Thereafter, it flew to New Providence.

The Consul-General and staff members of The Bahamas Consulate, Miami, were present at the airport in Fort Lauderdale to monitor the process until the flight departed, MOFA stated.