Azelia Pennerman, a 20-year-old Bahamian student living in Canterbury, England, said she feels forgotten by the government during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She is one of 65 Bahamian citizens and residents awaiting repatriation from the United Kingdom (UK) during the pandemic.
“It’s just like they closed the door,” Pennerman told The Nassau Guardian during a Zoom call with five others stuck in the U.K.
“They can’t see us no more because we’re on the other side, invisible. That’s one of the biggest things that annoyed me and as well I’ve been seeing news articles about Jamaica having gone to the U.K. and brought home their citizens.”
The Bahamas closed its borders to non-citizens and citizens in late March as part of its measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.
She added, “I just have had zero communication with any person that is a senior status in this whole thing. Everything I’ve heard is hearsay, basically, everything.
“I’ve not had one direct, firm statement from the government about our status as students over here and what they are doing to try and get us home. I literally don’t know and that’s one of the most infuriating things.”
Pennerman, who is expected to leave her university dormitory in mid-June, said she feels “very ill-informed in terms of what’s going”.
That’s a sentiment that was also echoed by Richard Horton, a Bahamian permanent resident, who is also stuck in England.
“At the same time, you know, it’s difficult not to have the feeling that we’re really not on the agenda,” he said.
“Is anybody trying to make arrangements, because there are ways — as we’ve discussed — that it would be possible for us to get home.
“But you can’t help but have that feeling that we’re more or less sort of being put on the back [burner].”
He noted that he understands the difficulty that the government is faced with in repatriating Bahamian citizens and residents trapped in the U.K. and other parts of Europe.
The government recently organized return flights out of Florida for Bahamians stuck in the United States.
Commercial flights are not operating from Europe to The Bahamas as the Bahamian border remains closed to international commercial flights. Some citizens and residents stuck in the U.K. have said it is too expensive for them to charter a flight to The Bahamas.
Renea Pennerman, Azelia’s mother, called on the government to reach out to British Airways to arrange a repatriation flight to The Bahamas.
“We just need our country, our government, to do what they need to do through the diplomatic channel to make that happen,” she said.
“We’re happy to pay,” Natalee Dias, whose 18-year-old son is stuck in England, added.
“We’re willing to pay. We just want our kids home. Everybody that I’ve spoken to, they’ve all said the same thing. Not one single person has said, ‘We can’t afford it. We need the government to bring our child.’
“I’ve not heard that at all with our U.K. kids.”
On May 8, the prime minister issued the Emergency Powers (COVID-19) (No. 3) Order, 2020.
Bahamian citizens and residents will be permitted entry into The Bahamas “by international air travel to New Providence or Grand Bahama”.
Those individuals will have to undergo a COVID-19 test prior to returning home or upon arrival in The Bahamas, according to the order.
They will also be subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
Last week, High Commissioner of The Bahamas to the United Kingdom (UK) and Northern Ireland Ellison Greenslade said his office was unsuccessful in locating COVID-19 testing facilities for Bahamian citizens and residents stuck in the U.K.
“The eligibility requirements by the U.K. government does not include the general public at this time,” Greenslade said.
“Persons not presenting with COVID-19 symptoms do not qualify. For clarity, please see the NHS (National Health Service) website. The high commission has not identified any testing facility in the U.K. other than certified NHS hospitals and surgeries. Our efforts to identify facilities other than NHS facilities have proven fruitless to date.”
On May 13, Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA) Director General Captain Charles Beneby told The Guardian that the government is having “ongoing” discussions about using major international airlines to bring Bahamians and residents home amid the COVID-19 pandemic.