By Kareem Smith, Barbados Today,
Scores of stranded travellers in Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean have been left in the dark about how they will get back to their countries of citizenship as regional governments contemplate the future of intra-regional travel following reports the LIAT would be wrapping up its operations.
Many travellers were already stranded for months due to regional shutdowns from COVID-19 and had been initially informed that LIAT would be able to resume operations mid-July. But hope descended into despair amid news that the cash-strapped carrier would be liquidated after more than four decades.
Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne first broke the news of the developments over the weekend indicating that a new “entity” would be formed and a shareholders’ meeting would be convened shortly after. Barbados TODAY understands that Caribbean Community (CARICOM) heads met in caucus at 3 p.m. on Monday with intra-regional travel as the main issue on the agenda. The outcome of the meetings is however still unclear.
In the meantime, a social media page called Caribbean Travel Movement has been calling on stranded CARICOM nationals to air their concerns and has attracted dozens of responses. Many of them are St Lucians stranded in Barbados. Among them is Emma Duquesne, 23, whose two-week trip that started on March 12 was involuntarily extended to three months.
“I’ve been well taken care of, but of course I would have wanted to get back home, and as soon as I saw that LIAT was being liquidated I started to panic because I was hoping they would have at least started back flying on the 10th. They said that flights would have been cancelled until June 30th, then they extended it to July 15th and now all of a sudden they are liquidating,” the confused St Lucian told Barbados TODAY.
She added that at least four other St Lucians have contacted her and expressed concern about their social, economic and immigration status in Barbados.
“My mother and my sister have been going crazy because I was supposed to be here for two weeks and now I am here for three months.
“It’s like they just forgot about us over here,” Duquesne added.
Efforts to get assistance from the offices of St Lucia’s Prime Minister and the country’s external affairs office have proven unsuccessful for the 23-year-old. A US $1500 charter flight was said to be “way too” expensive for some citizens of the Eastern Caribbean country located just 108 miles west of Barbados.
Barbados’ Ambassador to CARICOM, David Comissiong told Barbados TODAY he was unsure what plans would be made to assist the stranded tourists, while revealing that an emergency Heads of Government meeting was being held in caucus to discuss all issues of regional travel.
Efforts to reach high-level officials late Monday evening for word on the outcome were unsuccessful.
“It’s a very important meeting and hopefully coming out of it, they will have a very concrete word for the people of the Caribbean, understanding full well that there will be a lot of concern,” said the Ambassador.
On the question of alternative methods of regional travel, Comissiong said: “In addition to Caribbean Airlines, there are a few other small Caribbean Airlines that we tend not to notice, but which do exist. I was on a programme with [Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines] Dr Ralph Gonsalves and he mentioned that he would be speaking with Fly One Caribbean today and also with St Vincent and the Grenadines Airline to discuss the possibilities going forward.”
The ambassador however stressed that the majority of Barbadians once stranded across the region had made it home. The remaining Barbadians are mainly in Jamaica.
Main photo: LIAT aircraft