A group of TT students in India are pleading with the National Security Ministry to grant them an exemption to return home.They say daily, they are being asked by the school whether arrangements have been made by the TT government, as all other approvals have since been made on their end.
Vishala Sewdat, Tarun Maharaj, Tara Ramkumar and Amrish Seepersad arrived in Agra, India last August after earning a scholarship to complete a nine-month Hindi course. They were supposed to return home on May 2.
They said even prior to TT’s borders being closed, they began pleading with their school as well as the National Security Ministry in TT.
Sewdat told Newsday, “We contacted the Indian High Commission, the TT embassy and the school and we told them we wanted to come home and we need them to act fast.The High Commissioner said that we were just panicking and acting on emotions and that we should just wait.”
The students said their main focus was their exams in April.
Now, they have not been able to leave the compound of the hostel they are staying at since March 22. Grocery items, food, or any other necessities need to be ordered online and delivered to the school owing to the covid19 pandemic.
“It’s a school of about 90-something international students and we have less than 18 remaining because their country sent flights for them, so we are sort of a burden to the school. Every few days they are asking if our government has granted an exemption yet.”
Maharaj told Newsday it’s tough to continually see others being granted exemptions when there has not been much direct communication with them. He added that India is currently experiencing severe heat waves – something none of them are used to.
Sewdat said, “The first response, after multiple letters, was a decline and he (National Security Minister Stuart Young) said, ‘Borders are closed, shelter in place.’
“He said he is not stopping us from leaving India but he is not able to grant us an exemption to come to TT. He said he can only consider it when we’re on their last leg of travel.” The students would have to first fly to another country before they are able to venture to TT. And, they said the ministry asking them to leave India with no certainty they will be granted an exemption does not make sense.
In addition to these students, nine TT footballers are also stuck in India. “The school is paying for our ticket since it’s part of the scholarship. But they said they would not leave us stuck in some other country because they’re responsible for sending us back home. And it is difficult to get into other countries without proof that after that, we would be going to TT.”
They said their family members at home are “equally stressed,” especially since they are all pensioners, who are trying to continue to financially assist their children.
“You see the stress on their face, the worry…They try to give us hope, we try to give them hope.”
But they say they are all becoming hopeless.
Ramkumar told Newsday when their visa expires, so do their phone’s SIM cards. They had been granted an extension until June 30, but are now worried.
“We are not going to have data, to be able to call, we might not even be able to speak to our families.”
They said there have been many instances where, had they been granted the exemption, they could have been flown to a location that allowed them to return home.
The most recent occurrence, they say, was a flight that would have ended in Barbados last Saturday, which was the same day TT students at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill campus were allowed to return home.
They are hoping their pleas do not continue to fall on “deaf ears.”