FORMER opposition senator Taharqa Obika has resorted to social media to beseech the Government to lift the borders to allow entry to TT nationals including his Togo-born wife and their two young children. Obika was a senator from 2015-2020, and then the UNC candidate for Point Fortin in the 2020 general election, unsuccessfully.
He has not seen his family for a year and they remain stranded in Africa. His wife was in Togo finishing a degree, set to return to TT last September, but got blocked by the TT border closure.
"Need my wife and my daughter and son to be home. Government, open the border to our nationals NOW!!" read a posting he made on Monday.
Obika told Newsday the border lockdown – imposed to curb the spread of the covid19 virus – was taking a huge emotional and financial toll on those affected, such as his family. He urged the Government to follow the lead of other Caribbean governments in allowing entry to their countries subject to a period of quarantine at home.
Obika told Newsday he might consider leaving TT to go to Lome, Togo, to be with his wife and children.
Asked why he had made the online posts, he said he is not just an economist but also a storyteller with a duty to relate his experiences, even at the risk of criticism from online trolls. "I'm sure many persons are enduring not having their families with them as am I. As a man in this society these are not fashionable things to express, you feelings.
"But when you miss your child, some days it's like a big stone is on your chest. For the entire day, morning into night."
Obika said his family has been abroad for a year.
"My son is growing up. He is two years, three months. My daughter is going to be five years this year."
Obika said his wife had been in Togo with their children, completing her economics degree, when they were caught out by the covid19 lockdown.
He said last November he had applied for an exemption for his family to return to TT and when a new system was introduced in January he had re-applied in February.
"But when you apply for the visa, they throw you a curveball by telling you that you need to get a confirmed flight. Of course that would have been impossible. So we're just waiting.
"Then the new process by the Ministry of National Security came on stream. We applied and we got a reference number and that's it."
He said the UK borders had been opened, then closed and reopened again.
"Now the UK is opening back up it would be much more feasible to get a flight to come."
Saying his family must travel via Ghana and the UK, Obika said the UK has vaccinated a third of its targeted population, making flights out of the UK much more feasible. He said if the Government opens up the borders, flights heading to TT should be listed in a schedule, to make it easier for passengers to get a confirmed booking from a travel agent, if required by the ministry.
"It could be a month from now. But at least once you have a definite date you have something to work towards."
Obika said separation can harm family life, especially when they don't know when they'll be reunited.
"At least every day a phone call and WhatsApp, a video call. That was the agreement when my wife left, anyway."
But still, he says, it "changes the way you relate to your family. It's a very difficult experience, because it's an indefinite removal, so you have no idea when you'll have access to return.
"I have toyed with the idea of leaving the country, to be closer to them, but then I can't speak French and she lives in a French-speaking African country. It's not that I can gain employment there. I have to be here. These are the things you consider.
"The only saving grace is she is in her home country. She has her family around her. There are TT nationals who are not in that position."
His daughter attends school in both Gabon and Trinidad, taking advantage of the time difference in the two countries.
"She's doing pre-school at a primary school in Point Fortin, Grace Academy. She's doing physical classes in Togo. They are four hours ahead of us. By the time she comes home at 3 pm (Lome time), she prepares for a class which is at 11 am in Trinidad."
He misses his son. "My son started speaking, and I was not there. These are things people might feel are trivial but they are very important milestones."
The family doesn't even know if his wife's application to come back is now in the pipeline.
"No. There's no communication. They just give you a reference number.
"TT nationals stranded abroad have resorted to coming to a Caribbean territory that is nearby and quarantine.
"That was something I've been thinking about, because during the pandemic a flight started from Nigeria to Jamaica, and I was thinking they can come there and quarantine, and then if there is a repatriation flight by CAL, they can catch one of those. The Caribbean territories are allowing TT nationals to enter their countries and then quarantine. Why can't we do that for our own nationals here?
"They are doing home quarantines in their countries, while here we are mandating persons to go to a state (quarantine) facility and pay a certain amount of money which they might not have."
Under the TT system, Obika did see any advantage for TT nationals to be in the Caribbean to get access to TT.
"I don't believe being in the Caribbean helps you in any way."
He also noted the high cost of living in a nearby island.
Obika said his family might not return to TT until the borders were reopened.
He said he will not move his family to any other Caribbean country to dislocate them.
"My daughter would tell me she is going on an aeroplane to come to me. If she goes on a plane, in the next day or two she wants to be in my home.
"Wherever my wife and children are, that is my home. Even if I have to be in exile, I'll be where my 'home' is."
Obika said the Government was neglecting its citizens, unlike other Caribbean countries.
"Elections have consequences."
Obika said at least TT could look forward to the new vaccines' roll-out.
"It is important that the Government makes it clear as to when would be the final date (of the lockdown.)
"You have other expenses to consider. I have just renewed the lease on an the apartment in Togo for my family. They are not living for free.
"I'm not complaining about that. I'm complaining about the indefinite date. There's no date I can look to and say, 'Daughter, by your birthday I will see you, in August. There's nothing. It renders family impotent."
He met his wife when he was in Ghana finishing his MBA and had crossed the border to visit Togo.
"I met her at the university. If I had not gone up the staircase and seen her...It was not someone I knew."
Obika promised to tell the full story of their first encounter if he gets his wife's permission after she returns to TT.
He made the point he was not so much calling for a full opening of the borders but rather to bring home TT's citizens.
"The borders are open to our citizens everywhere else except in their own country. A TT national can get access to any country, once of course they meet regular immigration requirements and they do their PCR test and so on. The PCR test is still the basic requirement to enter a country and then home quarantine once you enter. If you're not living there you quarantine at a designated hotel. But the bottom line is you don't require an exemption to go to these other countries including our Caricom neighbours but to come to their own country they have to get an exemption which again is not even forthcoming."