Gina Iserel counts the days until she returns to South Africa. The third-year game art and animation major has not seen her family in months, and she has long been planning the trip in December. Then Izerel heard about the travel ban that Western and European governments had imposed when the Omicron variant of the coronavirus emerged.
Concerned about what the travel restrictions might mean for continuing her studies on the Boston campus, she read the list of exceptions in the White House announcement, but was surprised to find international students not on the list.
“My heart fell and I said, ‘Well, that’s real. Maybe I won’t make it home, ‘”Izerel recalls from her residence in Boston. “It’s really frustrating and annoying and really devastating for this to happen and it feels so specific to us. We are the only students affected. “
Northeastern has advised students from the eight affected African countries that support is available through a variety of resources, including the WeCare program, which offers assistance in the event of a break in studies.
“We encourage you to seek out any help our northeastern community can offer,” read a joint letter from Madeleine Estabrook, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, and Mallik Sundharam, Dean of the Office of Global Services.
The university “is closely following the situation in southern Africa and mourns the rise in the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that many of you face deep grief and fear when you hear from your family and loved ones at home, ”the letter reads.
Northeast international security hotline runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week should students encounter difficulties abroad. As more information becomes available about omicron, travel restrictions may change, which may create additional obstacles.
“The bottom line is we’re doing our best to support everyone, but sometimes the rules make it extremely difficult to leave or come in [the United States]”Says Khushal Safi, assistant director of public safety at Northeastern. “This is a good reminder to everyone that we are still in a pandemic.”
Nevertheless, the political leaders of southern Africa and the head of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, share the feeling of being under attack rammed the curbs as “travel apartheid”.
“It is unacceptable for part of the world to be sentenced to a lockout when he revealed the existence of a new variant that already existed in other parts of the world, including Europe,” added Guterres.
What may, Izerel is planning to push the trip to South Africa as she has made the difficult decision not to see her family or to be unable to continue her studies.
“Many of us students from South Africa and the surrounding countries that were banned thought that we either had to sacrifice our family time and our education in the United States. I think we shouldn’t have to make that choice.
“We really don’t want to be stuck here feeling bad about all of our plans that have been messed up, so I think a lot of people are willing to take that risk,” added Izerel.
It is the uncertainty of how long the travel restrictions will last that bothers Itumeleng “Tumi” Mosiah, a freshman journalism with a keen interest in human rights and humanitarian issues. Her flight to Johannesburg leaves Boston in early December and she plans to sit on that plane.
The spring semester starts in January, “but I don’t know if it will be over by then,” says Mosiah of the US travel ban for South Africa and seven other neighboring countries.
President Biden described the move as “Precaution“But the head of a trade group representing the US travel industry says the White House should reconsider the decision quickly.
“We have to follow science, and a travel ban is not the most effective way to go,” said Roger Dow, CEO of the US Travel Association, in a CNN interview.
Closing the borders could cause permanent economic damage as South Africa relies on tourism dollars from the US and Europe. “While we wait for scientific certainty about this new variant, the impact on Brand South Africa and the deep tourism value chain has been devastating,” says South Africa’s Minister of Tourism, Lindiwe Sisulu.
Both Mosiah and Izerel have spoken to their Northeastern professors about the possibility of resorting to online learning in the event that they are not allowed to re-enter the United States. “Many are open to zoom,” says Mosiah.
Her mother told her that when she arrived in South Africa, there would be travel restrictions between the provinces. “We had the same thing last year when there was a huge lockdown in December because December is our summer so people are really starting to travel and go out.” says Mosiah.
She agrees to limit travel between provinces out of caution, but fails to see the wisdom of curbs for African nations that have not yet reported omicron infections.
“Banning travel from sub-Saharan Africa is nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction,” says Mosiah.
Adding to the frustration for Izerel is the blanket refusal of people from the region to enter the United States, even if they have been immunized against COVID-19.
“Many of us come from institutions that have us regularly tested and vaccinated so that we are healthy and safe,” she says, “but restricting ourselves completely is so annoying. Unfortunately, once a ban is in place, it is not that easy to lift. “
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