ALMOST 200 Jamaicans who have been stranded in the United States since the Caribbean country closed its borders to incoming passengers on March 24 are slated to return to the island tomorrow.

The Jamaicans are scheduled to arrive on JetBlue flights from New York and Fort Lauderdale before midday as part of the Government’s controlled re-entry programme.

“Both are fully booked, 96 Jamaicans in each flight, all returning having gone through our process with our overseas missions — that is our consulate general in Miami, our consulate general in New York, and our embassy in Washington — which have worked together with the consular department in Kingston to identify the vulnerable and hardship cases, and those persons facing particular challenges, to return to Jamaica,” Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina Johnson Smith told a virtual media briefing yesterday.

“We look forward to welcoming them in accordance with the protocols that have been agreed,” added Johnson Smith.

Attempts were made to have the Jamaicans from the US back in the island last week, but Government sources say logistics issues prevented that from occurring.

Johnson Smith told the briefing that almost 7,500 Jamaicans stranded overseas have applied for permission to return home, but that process will not be as speedy as some would expect.

“Because of the number of applications and because we are managing controlled re-entry based on the amount of quarantine and isolation capacity that we have in Jamaica, there will not be an immediate response to your application. You will get your case number, which will mean that your application has been submitted. You don’t have to keep applying,” said Johnson Smith as she noted that some individuals have applied repeatedly.

“So we are asking again for your patience. If you keep applying you might actually prejudice your application, because you might have multiple hits against your passport and it might raise questions,” she added.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Andrew Holness downplayed claims by some of the 120 Jamaicans who returned to the island last week — the first cohort under the controlled re-entry programme — that they were not treated properly on their return.

“We heard that there was distress as it relates to persons travelling and not having any food here… We should have thought of that, that should have been in place, and just this morning I was informed that a walk-through was done to make sure that everything is considered, because we want to make sure that our Jamaicans feel happy to be back home,” said Holness.

“The idea was that it would have been a quick process of deboarding, coming, being checked, and put on the bus and moved straight to the hotel, where they would have been refreshed, but there was some issues as it relates to paperwork, ensuring that they were properly documented from the Ministry of Health perspective, and that created an unfortunate delay,” the prime minister added.

He said the walk-through, which the Jamaica Observer was told was conducted yesterday morning by a team led by minister without portfolio in the Ministry of National Security Matthew Samuda, resolved the issues, as much of that process has been digitised.

“But I would say that if persons are looking for something to complain about it will always be found, because we don’t have perfect processes and we are working under great stress,” said Holness.

He was supported by Johnson Smith, who said the 120 people who returned from the United Kingdom were fed on the flight, but that it was a no frills flight and might not have met their expectations.

Six of the 120 individuals from the UK are among the 505 people who have so far tested positive for COVID-19.

The almost 200 Jamaicans, who are slated to return home tomorrow, are to be transported to a facility on the north coast where they will be quarantined for 14 days.