by Derrick Scott
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The month of July has witnessed the re-opening of Jamaica’s Missions in the United States, and the return to some semblance of normalcy, as Jamaica’s air and seaports begin to fully reopen from the COVID-19 lockdown.
Resident and non-resident Jamaicans were all able to return to home at long last. A tall order it was, but the Government, through its Ministry of Foreign Affaires and Foreign Trade utilized its Missions to go all-out to help nationals stay safe until their return home could be facilitated.
Jamaica’s March 21 closure to incoming passenger traffic had left more than 3,000 of its citizens stranded in the USA – many having travelled for business, medical reasons or vacation, or students whose dorms soon closed. Another major group was the hospitality seasonal workers (category H2B), some awaiting transfer from winter to summer resort properties.
The Jamaican Embassy in Washington, D.C. and the Consulates in New York and Miami rallied to the cause, handling the accommodation, food and medical needs of the stranded nationals who ran into difficulties.
Ambassador to the United States Audrey Marks spearheaded an Embassy initiative with the Consulates through a support team, with a “pop-up” call centre to create a database of all the affected persons. An 800 toll free number and one email address were put in place.
“At such difficult junctures in life it is very easy for people to find themselves feeling depressed, hopeless, and alone,” said Ambassador Marks, who also convened several zoom meetings to keep persons informed and assess specific individual needs. “We did our best to mitigate those negative feelings by following up personally with emergency cases so these individuals would know someone was on their side and working on their behalf.”
The Jamaican missions also enlisted the assistance of several Jamaican doctors in the Diaspora. Among them were President of the New Jersey based ‘Help Jamaican Medical Mission,’ Dr. Robert Clarke, and Florida based Dr. Wentworth Jarrett, who contacted the affected individuals, consulting with doctors in Jamaica, writing prescriptions and even providing needed medicines at no cost where possible, and following up with patients.
The teams also assisted with the cost of meals and hotel accommodation in cases where support from the diaspora had been exhausted, while a number of diaspora-owned businesses such as Linstead Market, National Bakery and Grace Kennedy pitched in with generous support.
Contact was also made with US Department of Homeland Security regarding the procedures to extend visa stays and waive application fees.
Support continued, in order to manage the controlled re-entry process, including coordinating with the airlines on the initial flight lists and helping persons to buy tickets to get as many nationals home as possible during the May to June 14th period.
Thereafter, the team provided ongoing support to all nationals and non-nationals with regard to the re-entry protocols.
With all the known stranded Jamaicans now home, there were many expressions of appreciation. Consul General in Miami Oliver Mair said “it was our pleasure to support our people during this difficult time.”
Similar sentiments were echoed by Jamaica’s Consul General in New York, Alsion Wilson, who supported by Jamaica’s Honorary Consul in Philadelphia Mr. Christopher Chaplin and Honorary Consul in Atlanta Dr. Elaine Bryan ensured everything went well and that they were able to get everyone home safely.