PHILIPSBURG–An eight-year-old child was left in the care of Immigration Services at Princess Juliana International Airport SXM last week Wednesday after being returned to the island by LIAT airline due to a flight cancellation.
The child, an unaccompanied minor on LIAT, was destined for Guyana from St. Maarten where she was to have been met by her parents. She was put in the care of LIAT and its handling agent Juliana Handlers for the trip, which was scheduled to stop in Antigua and in Barbados before touching down at its final destination at approximately 10:00pm.
The flight left St. Maarten at approximately 11:30am. On arrival in Antigua, the remaining leg of the LIAT flight (Barbados-Guyana) was cancelled. As the child had no supervision in Antigua, she was put back on a flight to St. Maarten.
Normal procedures dictate that LIAT’s flight attendants would have handed the child over to its agents once back at SXM airport. This was confirmed by Head of Immigration Geronimo Juliet, who stated that LIAT’s ground handlers would have had to be the persons responsible for leaving the child at Immigration.
However, he could not say for certain what had transpired, as he needed time to look into the case. Juliet stressed that Immigration of course would take care of the child until relatives or guardians were notified.
It is also unclear how long the child stayed in Antigua and what time she was returned to St. Maarten. As it turned out, however, she remained at Immigration until approximately 10:30pm when the last of the Immigration personnel was closing up.
The child had all of her information in her possession, so identification and contact numbers were not an issue. It was only then that the child’s grandmother was called and notified that she was sitting at PJIA at Immigration, quiet, but obviously worried and scared.
The child’s parents were in a frantic state in Guyana by this time, as they had expected their child at 10:00pm. They called the grandmother in St. Maarten, who also tried frantically to locate her grandchild until she received the call from the airport.
Neither Juliana Handlers nor LIAT had notified the child’s relatives that the flight had been cancelled. In fact, the flight did not register in Guyana as cancelled, but as moved to a different airport.
The family has been trying for the past week to obtain some answers from LIAT, which also did not return the child’s luggage. The family also demanded that LIAT provide a ticket for the child and her grandmother to travel to Guyana as soon as possible. The child’s mother wrote to the company detailing what had happened and seeking answers. Their efforts fell on deaf ears until the media started making inquiries yesterday.
LIAT finally responded to the family by acknowledging receipt of the mother’s letter and assuring that the airline would make arrangements for the child and her grandmother to travel to Guyana.
To date, the child’s parents do not know how long their daughter waited in Antigua to be put back on a flight to St. Maarten and how long she was at SXM airport. Judging from LIAT’s daily schedule, the Antigua flight touches down at SXM airport at approximately 4:50pm. Juliana Handlers could not be reached on Thursday for official comment.