COVID-19: How Latin American students struggle during the crisis?

Some Latin American students are stuck abroad because of the closure of the international airports of their home countries and their mental health is starting to be affected.

Young student using laptop.

Latin American students studying abroad were trapped waiting for a solution to the crisis. / Photo: Pexels

LatinAmerican Post | Ana Betancourt

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Leer en español: COVID-19: ¿Cómo están los estudiantes latinoamericanos?

As most of the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Latin America came from people who had been in other countries (Italy, Spain, or the U.S.), presidents of most of the countries of the region (such as Colombia, Peru, and Brazil) decided to close the land borders and cancel the international flights for a while.

Even though this decision has been made to protect the public health, it is affecting some Latin American students abroad that travelled for a couple of months, and now they can´t go back to their countries. Most of them have been facing the crisis in loneliness because their educational institutions are working exclusively online, and they have a lot of restrictions to go out.

“Because of living this situation I´ve experienced the most intense despair in my life. I´ve had a terrible mental health year. Thus, being in this situation is increasing my anxiety. I haven´t sleep in days, and I´m really scared of losing myself. I don´t want to be alone anymore”, says Maria, a student of BYU.

Countries like Brazil haven´t close the borders yet, albeit there are just a few airlines flying. Thus, it makes it harder for the people to return to their country. “To fly back to Brazil I need to buy a flight ticket, but only two companies are having flights to Brazil. I had to change my flight in June because the company which I bought a ticket had cancelled all the flights to Brazil. I almost had to buy another one, however the company changed my flight to another company and I didn't lose money”, says Barbara, a Brazilian student in the U.S.

Some students only have hope in going back to their home countries in humanitarian flights. However, the governments are still working in these flights and don’t have certainty if they will possibly organize ones or if they would include the students in this kind of flights.

“I´ve been thinking in returning in a humanitarian flight, but they haven´t done any from Holland. For now, I have talked with the Chancellery and I´m waiting for their news about an available flight”, says Santiago, a Colombian student in Groningen (The Netherlands). 

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The Consulates have specific criteria to decide whether is a humanitarian flight or not, and also to determine who is included in that kind of flights. “To determine the precise conditions that will apply in that possible return we are taking into account: the number of compatriots in each country, their vulnerability conditions, the strict sanitary protocols that they will have to apply in the city of arrival, and other necessary aspects. The vulnerability criteria to conform the final list are: pregnant women, the elderly, minors without company, people with serious health conditions, death of family members, victims, etcetera”, says the Colombian Consulate in Boston.

This means that most of the students aren´t priority people for humanitarian flights. With the airports closed and with less opportunities to take a humanitarian flight their concerns and anxieties increase.

Margarita, a student in Boston, expressed that the authorities’ replies haven´t been helpful. “I´ve communicated with the Colombian Consulate and their answers are automatic, and with the sensation that they don´t even know what is going on. The only tool they have given to us is: stay in calm, because if you have a shelter, you are busy studying, and you have food you must be OK. But they forget that our affections with the family are in Colombia, and that there´s a psychological part that is altered while the time passes”, Margarita says.

On the other hand, some students have been able to have access to humanitarian flights making a lot of pressure to the Consulates of their countries. Jamie, a Peruvian student found a humanitarian flight after two weeks of calling and sending emails to the Peruvian Consulate in the U.S. very often. She moved to Florida, where the Peruvian State financed her staying in a hotel during that weeks and finally she could go back to her country. “After one week in Florida I could travel, but it was because I was very insistent. Because there was a long list of people”, says the student.

Nevertheless, Peru only offered humanitarian flights for the first weeks after the border´s closure. After that moment the people that were needing to go back had to pay for a charter flight, and being included in that kind of flights was even harder.

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“I registered in the Consulate on Thursday by phone. On Saturday I called again to check how were all the procedures in that moment the woman told me that there was a flight from Florida to Peru on Monday, albeit it was a charter, not a humanitarian flight. She said I had to pay $450 USD and that it wasn´t completely confirmed that I was going to be included on the flight´s list. I felt a lot of uncertainty until they called me to tell me that I was a passenger of that flight.  My country has been good with me, and I´m so grateful of their attention and care for their citizens”, says Leila, a Peruvian student.

The feelings and thoughts that the students have because they don´t have the opportunity to travel to their countries and being with their families during the crisis is very common. “Being away from the people with whom you have affective links in moments like this one of this crisis contact the people with a sensation of loneliness and they may develop anxiety and depression. If they have a previous mental health condition it could be exacerbated. It´s important that the governments open psychological attention telephonic lines. And also to show contents of easy divulgation of how you can improve your mental health and how to stay in contact with pleasant things”, says Carolina Alarcón, a clinical psychologist.

Most of the Consulates are trying to give tools to face this issues for their citizens abroad with posts and lives in social media about psychological, nutritional, and physical activities topics. Also, they are making effort to send returning flights. But there is still a lot of people that haven´t been able to go back because they cannot pay the tickets or because they haven´t been included in the flights´ lists. The pressure that this crisis is causing and the loneliness is still a problem that is not going to be solved until they meet again with their families.



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