When Riëtte Badenhorst got home from her cancer surgery in South Africa, all her fiancé Steve Mann could do was comfort her on the phone, all the way from the UK. Riëtte wishes he had been with her.
“Friends and family help, but it’s not the same,” she tells CNN. “Video calls help, but it’s not the same…. We want to hold each other when one is sad and feel overwhelmed.”
Badenhorst and Mann began dating in 2016 and got engaged three years later. They have not seen each other in more than a year, even after Badenhorst cancer diagnosis.
They’re among many unmarried couples of differing nationalities who, separated by coronavirus travel bans, will spend this year’s Valentine’s Day apart from their loved ones.
It began last March when rising concerns over the virus prompted the United States to introduce restrictions on most travelers from Europe’s Schengen area and Brazil.
Many other countries introduced their own travel bans. Most allowed exemptions, but only for spouses — leaving unmarried partners and their families in limbo.
Since 2016, Elizabeth Anne Shannon had been traveling from Oklahoma to the Philippines four times a year to visit her fiancée Recca Morcada. Her son Lane — one of the five children she had with her ex-husband Ed — even came with her twice.
“We consider this a family for us, it may be unconventional but it’s our family, and it’s worked great for four and a half years,” Shannon tells CNN.
With both the Philippines and the United States having imposed strict travel restrictions, Shannon and Morcada have not seen each other in more than a year.
“I can’t wait for you to come home to your Oklahoma family,” Shannon writes to her partner on Facebook. “We need you with us and miss you.”
More than half of American millennials are not married, and those who marry do so later in life, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Similar trends are seen in Europe.
“This isn’t 1850 anymore,” says Offely Epain, a French Londoner who has been unable to see her Sri Lankan partner in almost eight months. “We need to go beyond this archaic rule that only recognizes couples when they are married.”
She says rules that separate rules for unwedded couples are “out of age, in a world of globalization that, until now, allowed us to move freely, meet anybody and fall in love with people who aren’t the same nationality.”
“You can certainly have couples who are very committed, who have been together for years and who aren’t married; or couples who aren’t able to live in the same country for whatever reason, that’s just a product of the world changing,” adds American Maggie Foster, who is in love with French doctoral student Alexandre Portier.
“Now, that’s been shut down without any thought given to the really drastic effects it had on some people’s lives,” she continues.
Last spring, Foster founded Couples Separated By Travel Bans, a Facebook group where couples shared information on travel restrictions.
“Quickly, the group kind of exploded,” she says. Its members joined forces with other groups such as Love Not Tourism and lobbied elected representatives to get rules waived for unmarried couples — so-called sweetheart exemptions.
In July, Denmark was the first country to grant sweetheart exemptions. Other countries followed, including Austria, the Netherlands, Germany and France, as the European Commission encouraged all countries to allow unmarried couples to enter.
- The train hit the lorry then crashed inside a tunnel on Friday. A construction site manager suspected of negligence has been granted bail.
- The journey to cross the canal takes 10 to 12 hours, and in the event the channel operates for 24 hours, two convoys per day will be able to successfully pass.