Stu­dents Say They Feel Trapped!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE - By Toni Ni­cholas

It’s been al­most a year since the Lam­birds is­sue first made head­lines here and else­where. The mat­ter in­volved for­eign stu­dents, the ma­jor­ity from Asia, lured here by ad­ver­tise­ments that turned out to be wholly ex­ag­ger­ated, to say the least. Act­ing on their com­plaints the po­lice raided premises in Gros Islet and seized com­put­ers and pass­ports as ev­i­dence. Four men from In­dia and Bangladesh were taken into cus­tody and charged with hu­man traf­fick­ing and sev­eral other crimes.

The men had been op­er­at­ing what was ad­ver­tised on the In­ter­net as Lam­birds Univer­sity. One year later, while the sus­pects re­main in cus­tody, there has been lit­tle re­lated ac­tion in the courts, a sit­u­a­tion that has left the stu­dents frus­trated and say­ing the worst about the is­land’s jus­tice sys­tem, as in­deed has the res­i­dent am­bas­sador for France.

The stu­dents are here at tax­payer ex­pense un­til their case is heard. With the DPP’s of­fice as un­der­funded and un­der­staffed as it is, chances are it will be some time be­fore they have their day in court, or the thou­sands they in­vested in “bet­ter education in Saint Lu­cia” re­turned to them.

Three weeks ago the 38 stu­dents, who now re­side at Hill­side Plaza in La Clery, were in­formed by the Min­istry of Home Affairs that they could re­turn home if they paid their own way. Six were able to do so, with the help of fam­ily and friends. Two of the stu­dents told the STAR their tick­ets home would cost US$14,000. One of them was ea­ger to at­tend his brother’s wed­ding. An­other wanted to be at his ail­ing grand­mother’s bed­side.

“On Jan­uary 15,” said one of the stu­dents, “we were asked to con­firm our tick­ets. We did. The fol­low­ing day, we went to Home Affairs to speak with some­one there. She asked us to for­ward her the con­fir­ma­tion Email. We did that too. We re­turned on Jan­uary 25 to ask about our pass­ports that they are hold­ing, and pre­sented our tick­ets. We were sup­posed to leave on Jan­uary 28. But at the min­istry we were asked to take our tick­ets to the Crime Branch of the Royal Saint Lu­cia Po­lice Force. They told us ev­ery­thing would be all right and we would be per­mit­ted to leave.”

On their de­par­ture day the stu­dents waited to be picked up at their ho­tel by the po­lice and trans­ported to the air­port. Said one of the stu­dents, “Six of us went to the air­port with an of­fi­cer. We were sup­posed to travel to Bar­ba­dos, then Ger­many and on to Dubai be­fore our fi­nal desti­na­tion, Nepal. We were all very ex­cited be­cause we were long­ing to see our fam­i­lies who have been very wor­ried about us.”

The six ar­rived at the Ge­orge FL Charles Air­port at about one in the af­ter­noon. Two hours later an­other of­fi­cer ar­rived with three pass­ports. The po­lice told the stu­dents that they could not lo­cate two pass­ports and that with re­gard to an­other stu­dent, some­thing wasn’t quite right with his travel doc­u­ments. The two men whose pass­ports could not be found told the STAR: “We felt we had come so close, and spent all that money, for noth­ing. Our driver tried to con­sole. He as­sured us our pass­ports would be found and we would be per­mit­ted to go home. We tried to con­tact Home Affairs but no one took our calls.”

It was not un­til 4 pm that an im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cial con­firmed that the two pass­ports could not be found and the stu­dents con­cerned could not leave. Again, they re­turned to the min­istry for as­sis­tance, to no avail. No one would see them.

“We asked to talk to the per­son who had ad­vised us to go ahead and buy our tick­ets but a sec­re­tary said we’d have to re­turn the next day. A PS told us to go to the Crime Branch to find out what is go­ing on.”

An­other visit to Home Affairs on Jan­uary 29 again proved fu­tile. The stu­dents claimed they were locked out by the re­cep­tion­ist who called a po­lice of­fi­cer to es­cort them out. Last week the stu­dents were vis­ited by two min­istry of­fi­cials who promised they would soon leave.

“We asked them to give us a clear date but they could not,” said one stu­dent. “We even asked for an ap­point­ment with the Min­is­ter of Home Affairs. That was not granted,” we were told by the stu­dents.

Since the “Lam­birds Af­fair”, the stu­dents say that in all the time they have been in Saint Lu­cia they have never seen Home Affairs Min­is­ter Philip LaCorbiniere.

“Right now we are just so frus­trated,” said a fe­male stu­dent, “We can­not go to school; we are not al­lowed to work; and we can­not go home to our fam­i­lies. We were lured here and now we feel trapped. We feel like pris­on­ers, un­able to go on with our lives, un­able to pur­sue our dreams.”

In next week­end’s STAR: more on the Lam­birds Af­fair and how the po­lice, the DPP’s of­fice, and Min­istry of Home Affairs are han­dling the mat­ter.

Away from fam­ily, friends and loved ones now for more than a year, with hopes of re­turn­ing home

be­ing dashed each day, scammed Lam­birds stu­dents feel trapped as frus­tra­tion mounts.

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