Some international students left in Canada as borders close around the world

After in-person classes were cancelled at his university in Fredericton, Kurvin Silvio decided to book a flight home to Mauritius. 

He was set to fly out his birthday, March 18, at 6 a.m. He made it as far as Toronto. 

As he was boarding the plane to fly to Dubai, a course that would have taken him from Dubai on to Mauritius, he received a text from his dad recommending he should stay put in Toronto. 

"My dad texted me and told me, 'You can't come back home because the country is shut down and the airport is closed,'" said Silvio, a second-year student studying French and political science at St. Thomas University. 

Given the global pandemic over COVID-19, Silvio wasn't surprised he could no longer fly home, although some Mauritians aboard the flight were "very shaken up." 

"For me, I would say it was a shock, but I was kind of prepared for it." 

Submitted by Kurvin Silvio

All travellers and Mauritian nationals were banned from entering the airport on March 19. Silvio didn't want to risk getting stuck in Dubai or ending up in a quarantine in Mauritius, so he decided it was best to stay.

Silvio is among many international students stuck in Canada after universities cancelled in-person classes and borders began closing around the world. Some have been able to leave before their home border closed, others haven't been so lucky. 

Borders closing hours before flight 

A week and a half ago, Maria Leiva along with 2,000 other students at her university, received an email saying classes would now be done online because of concerns over COVID-19.

Leiva is a third-year student at St. Thomas, studying political science and international relations. 

She sent the email to her parents, and started planning her trip home to Honduras. 

Leiva lives in an apartment with one roommate, who is also from Honduras. They booked their flights together the next day, packed up their belongings and prepared to leave on Monday, March 16 at 4:10 p.m. 

"We were all ready, we had a hotel, we had our flights, our luggage packed, everything ready to go."  

But on Sunday night, hours before take off, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, announced the country was closing its borders. 

There are more than 300,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally. There are more than 20 cases of COVID-19 in Honduras and 17 cases of the respiratory illness in New Brunswick. 

"On Monday, we were like, OK, so are we not leaving or what is happening?"

At 1 p.m. on Monday, Leiva and her roommate decided to stay in Canada.

"We decided we were not leaving, and now, even though it's hard to not be with your family at these times, I think we made the right decision." 

A few days later, Canada followed suit by closing its border. 

"If we had left, it could [have been] more difficult for us to come back and we don't know how long it's going to take for this situation to go back to normal." 

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Leiva is spending her time doing homework, cooking, watching movies and talking to her roommate. 

Silvio has been staying with Mauritian relatives in Toronto. He's been eating home-cooked meals, playing video games and preparing for his online courses, which were just launched today.

"I kind of feel at home with the people I'm staying with here," he said.

Fear for friends

Leiva is worried about her friends, and what might happen if they're no longer able to pay rent because they're not working. She also wonders what will happen if parents are no longer able to go to banks and send money to their children studying abroad. 

"Things have been changing so dramatically and so fast these days that you don't have any sense of stability," she said.

Silvio is worried about his friends and family back home. 

"We are not as developed as Canada or say, European countries," Silvio said, adding Mauritius had four cases two days ago, but now that number has ballooned to 28 cases and two deaths. 

"We know there is a shortage of respirators, doctors, sanitary products, and we don't have space [in hospitals] for everyone."

International students seeking entry into the country received good news Friday when the federal government expanded the list of exemptions to air travel restrictions. International students holding a valid study permit — or approved for a permit — are now among the individuals considered essential travellers.