The year 2020 should have been joyous for Kearell Neils, having graduated with first-class honours from the Université de Cergy Pontoise in France.
Despite being in Guadeloupe, a mere 620 km away from home, Neils, a 22-year-old holder of a BA in Applied Foreign Languages, remained trapped in the French territory by the prolonged closure of the local borders to citizens.
Already having to move her studies from France to Guadeloupe as a result of depression, Neils believes she is experiencing the mental anguish again and keeps constant contact with her councillor back home. The last time she saw her parents Maria and Keith were last Christmas when she returned to her Cunupia home.
She said she sent numerous requests for exemptions to Minister of National Security Stuart Young, the Ministry of National Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
However, she only receives automated responses, which only makes her depression worse.
“It has been months now, and I honestly feel like I can get one response. Even if the response is negative, I would like to have some contact with some higher authority on this matter because it is becoming unbearable,” Neils said.
She explained that she left Trinidad in 2016 to study in France, and after two years of study, she took a sabbatical because of her depression.
“When I left for France, I took a big risk. I had never stayed abroad for a long period. I had never been to France before, but I knew my passion for languages was stronger than anything else, and that was something that pushed me. I spent the first year in France. Then, I had been back and forth between France and Trinidad because it became so emotionally and mentally unbearable. If you experience winter, especially in isolation, you will understand what I felt.”
She then transferred to the Université des Antilles in Guadeloupe so she could be closer to her family, whom she would visit during the mid-year and Christmas breaks.
“I decided to come closer to home and Guadeloupe because of the emotional strain that it had on me. I do not know if you know much about France, but the country itself is very xenophobic; there is a lot of discrimination. It is not the typical student experience that you see in movies; it is totally different. It is like you become a migrant of France. You have your taxes to pay like a regular French person. It is not like when you go to the United States to study.”
Neils completed her degree in May and was expecting to return home, easing the financial burden on her parents. Now, her parents make monthly trips to Western Union and Money Gram to transfer money to her for rent, food and other upkeep. Her father worked longer than expected to ensure she finished her programme and retired earlier this year. It means that her mother is the only family member with a job.
She said when the Government decided to bring home students from the University of the West Indies campuses in Mona, Jamaica and Cave Hill, Barbados, she got the notification a day ahead of the trip and was not able to make the flight arrangements.
She said, “I honestly feel like the Government or whoever is in charge of the responses can do a better job at communicating, especially with students. As I said, I did not leave for work. I did not migrate. I went to study. I feel like I should be able to, at least, get a response on whether I can come back home or if I cannot so I can further arrange myself every month.”
There are no direct flights between Guadeloupe and Trinidad, so she inquired from the Ministry of National Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs if she should go to Barbados or St Lucia, but again, there were no responses. She said although Guadeloupe is in the Caribbean, the diplomatic representative is in Belgium.
“Emotionally, I am on my last. I try to keep it together for my family because I know my parents worry about me a lot. I am just here without hope, family or feedback. Honestly, it is just hard to wake up and continue with hope. It is draining.”