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Passengers disembarking the MB Sandaka at Port Moleson Creek (Ministry of Public Works photo)
Passengers disembarking the MB Sandaka at Port Moleson Creek (Ministry of Public Works photo)

… Guyanese finally return from Suriname
… as ferry service resumes

AFTER being officially closed for almost a year, the Guyana-Suriname border has finally been reopened for legal travel between the two countries. The MB Sandaka, serving as a temporary replacement for the inoperable Canawaima ferry, sailed from Moleson Creek at 08:00hrs on Sunday to South Drain, Suriname with eight passengers. The vessel returned to Guyana later at 13:00hrs the same day, with eight Guyanese who were delighted to return home.

A passenger being sanitised before entering the Moleson Creek Terminal (Ministry of Public Works photos)

Khemraj Balkumar, 36, said that he left Guyana for Suriname in November 2019 to work, and was due to return in May 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 restrictions, he was left stranded in Suriname, unable to work. Balkumar was financially supported by relatives overseas. He is finally home. “[It] was very hard but [I am] glad to be back home”, he beamed.

Anita Tilko is a Surinamese who boarded the MB Sandaka as it prepared for its return trip to Guyana. Tilko was pleased that she could come to Guyana for a relative’s funeral, and be able to mourn with the rest of her family. Another Surinamese, Denzel Wilson was among the excited passengers to disembark at Port Moleson Creek; he is currently here on vacation, and quite eager to dig into the local cuisine.

A passenger having his PCR test results examined by a health worker

“I’m coming from a total lockdown in Suriname. I am glad that the border is open now so that we can come take a vacation”. He has assured that the protocols established in Guyana will be fully adhered to. Prior to the vessel setting sail, Public Works Minister, Juan Edghill, conducted a walkthrough of the system to ensure that all travel protocols, in relation to COVID-19, were in place. He concluded that Guyana is in full compliance with all the guidelines and procedures required for the safe reopening of the border.

Khemraj Balkumar was stranded in Suriname, without a job, for almost a year; he is elated to be home

Speaking to reporters at the Moleson Creek terminal, Edghill indicated that had the ferry service not resumed this week, Guyana would have had to organise and conduct a repatriation journey, since scores of Guyanese have been officially requesting legal passage to return home. Even though the border to Suriname was closed in March 2020 due to the pandemic, its reopening was delayed by several months as a result of a Cuban caravan that had assembled at South Drain, Suriname, waiting to travel to Guyana. It is believed that the Cubans had intended to use Guyana as a transshipment point to the United States of America.

Surinamese, Anita Tilko, is pleased that she is able to be with her relatives as they mourn the loss of a loved one

According to Edghill, the matter has been addressed in a manner that is “satisfactory” enough to motivate a reopening of the border. However, as a precaution, only Guyanese and Surinamese would be allowed to utilise the ferry service which will be operating three times weekly – on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Diplomat residents in Guyana and in Suriname will be facilitated upon request through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of both countries.

More importantly, every passenger who wishes to travel must produce a negative Polymerase Chain Reaction Test (PCR test) to confirm that they do not have the novel coronavirus. The test must be taken within 72 hours of travel. Edghill said that persons will be on site to ensure that the PCR tests presented are legitimate and valid.

Surinamese, Denzel Wilson, has ‘escaped’ the lockdown in his country, and has sailed across the Corentyne for a vacation

Should any issues be detected with the results provided, health personnel will be on standby to conduct additional testing, and persons with faulty result will be placed in quarantine. The Public Works Minister also has indicated that the travel schedule for the ferry service is not one that is set in stone.
“The Board of Directors of Canawaima, can and will make adjustments on the schedule, based on the travel demands of the people of Guyana and Suriname; [it] may very well end up having an everyday service as the traffic grows,” Edghill said.

He noted that a slow start to the ferry resumption was expected, since many persons still need time to do their COVID-19 testing. For years, the Guyana-Suriname ferry service served as a critical and legal link between the two countries, mutually improving economic and cultural relations. Without the ferry service, scores of persons in Suriname and Guyana usually resort to the alternative “backtrack” routes.

Only recently, three Guyanese were feared dead after their attempt to return home turned into a nightmare. The two men and one woman were reportedly dropped off in waist-high waters and left in the dark of the night to maneuver their way to Guyana’s shores, which was nowhere in sight. The bodies of the men have since been recovered. A taxi driver and two fishermen in Suriname have since been taken into police custody, and investigations are continuing.

Referencing the tragedy, Minister Edghill said that the administration is pained by the loss of lives due to the border closure. “We want to encourage all Guyanese and Surinamese to desist from travelling back track which is risky and has been fatal; utilise the service that is being offered here between Moleson Creek and South Drain,” Edghill insisted. He assured that all efforts are being made to ensure that the ferry’s operation is safe for the travellers, the employees of the ferry service, as well as the citizens of both countries. “Those receiving family, please observe protocols; don’t take anything for granted…our greatest resource is not our oil and gas, it is you, our people,” the minister posited.

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