The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade is aware that between the 24th and 25th March, more than 100 Jamaicans found themselves in uncertain circumstances at the Hartfield International Airport where their flights to Jamaica had been cancelled in light of current travel restrictions.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator the Honourable Kamina Johnson Smith advised that while she understood from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security that all Jamaican hotel workers on the government work programme had returned to Jamaica over the last week, there are still nationals working in the hospitality industry in the United States of America through private agency arrangements, and that some had recently made individual efforts to return home.
Minister Johnson Smith stated,” The Ministry became aware of nationals who in many cases had left their jobs out of anxiety about the Covid-19 outbreak globally and were unable to complete their routes due to cancelled flights. Through the excellent cooperation among our Consul General in New York, our Consul General in Miami and the Honorary Consul in Atlanta, arrangements were made to assist our nationals. For those who did not have friends or family in Atlanta with whom they could stay, the Ministry team secured the agreement of the relevant airlines to reroute our nationals to appropriate cities at no charge. This also meant securing for some, the agreement of their employers to either take them back on the job or to secure accommodations for them.”
The Minister continued, “During these challenging times, our excellent consular team at Headquarters has been providing support to our nationals across the world as best as possible, along with our overseas Missions and Honorary Consuls who have all been going above and
beyond to ensure they are safe and protected. I really thank them for the sacrifices made every day. I also want to say a special word of recognition for the efforts on the ground in Atlanta yesterday (Wednesday March 25th). Our Nationals were in great anxiety and uncertainty about their next steps and the situation was not made easier by the fact that they were all in differing situations. They are now safe and some of them have sent voice notes and Whatsapp messages expressing gratitude. All nationals departed the airport by 6pm last night, and are currently being housed in Wisconsin, Chicago, Miami, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Utah and Panama City.”
Johnson Smith also added that they received another report today, March 26, that four more persons flew into Atlanta and were stranded. She said, “Our Honorary Consuls assisted them and they are safe and accommodated. It is a very trying time for all of us and our nationals remain our top priority.”
She explained that apart from the representative of the Consulate going to the airport to ascertain facts, support coordination and speak with the airline desk agents, the Consuls General spoke with workers by phone to provide calm and words of encouragement for those who needed it, and to get information that helped them reach out to employers and agents to confirm arrangements.
In closing, Minister Johnson Smith said the Ministry acknowledges that there will be increased numbers of nationals overseas in need of assistance at this time and to come, and that emergency contact information was therefore being circulated through websites and social media platforms of the Ministry and overseas missions. She encouraged persons to share this information, to follow official information and guidance, and where possible, to avoid travel at this time in the interests of their personal safety and the safety of others. She also called on the Jamaican community to call only for emergencies so that those with the greatest needs can get through and be assisted where possible.
Minister Johnson smith also took the opportunity to thank members of the Jamaican Community who have been helpful to overseas Missions in securing accommodation for persons in need. She said she prays for the earliest return to normalcy from this global crisis and knows that our resilience and sense of community will triumph.