DEVASTATED families have told of their heartache after being separated from their loved ones for over a year due to travel restrictions.

Binational families and people who are settled in Scotland expressed their frustration at a lack of recognition of their circumstances, as much of the public discourse around foreign travel focuses on holidays. 

Scots with family abroad have also hit out at the Scottish Government for failing to put in place measures that would make it easier for them to travel to see their loved ones, describing the situation as “heartbreaking” and “devastating”. 

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It comes as a number of countries are being moved to different lists for international travel from Tuesday morning under the traffic light system.

For many, the cost of testing is prohibitive, while isolating for ten days upon returning to Scotland would cause a further loss of income. 

Travelling to visit relatives, partners or close friends abroad is not currently listed under the Government’s exemptions.

“All we want to do is see our family again”

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“I wish the government and media would also consider that travelling internationally isn’t always about going on holiday,” said Graeme Shaw, 32, from Kinross. 

His three-year-old daughter has only met her grandparents in Hungary once, in November 2019. 

Travel restrictions have prevented Graeme and his Hungarian wife from leaving Scotland since. 

“That means for 40% of her life she’s not seen her grandparents,” he said. “We all desperately miss them and my wife especially.”

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Despite technology offering a welcome connection with the loved-ones abroad, the family is hoping to reunite soon after 18 months of separation. 

“There are thousands of us with family abroad that we have not been able to see,” he added. 

“I am sure those who haven’t seen loved ones abroad would love to be able to visit and would comply with restrictions and pay attention to public health information. 

“Unfortunately the cost of testing puts this out of the reach of many people. 

“I fear that those with family abroad are often forgotten about when discussing international travel as the debate focuses on summer holidays. 

“All we want to do is see our family again.”

“I just wish the government paid attention to people like me”

HeraldScotland: Dagmara Harezga, from Poland, is based in Edinburgh, where she works as a medical secretary. She hasn't seen her family or partner since last SeptemberDagmara Harezga, from Poland, is based in Edinburgh, where she works as a medical secretary. She hasn't seen her family or partner since last September

Medical secretary Dagmara Harezga hasn’t seen her family and lifetime partner since September 2020. 

“We are devastated by this situation,” she said. “The travel rules regarding arrival to Scotland are ridiculous and have nothing to do with real health advice.”

The 40-year-old, based in Edinburgh, moved to the UK from Poland in 2013, and has lived in Scotland for the last six years.

Despite being fully vaccinated, Dagmara would still be forced to get tested and isolate when re-entering Scotland. 

“Quite a few European countries like Poland have low cases and are still on the amber list, it is so frustrating,” she said.

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“Scotland is testing for day two and eight for amber arrivals, which costs £170, I cannot afford that on my wage and I wouldn’t be able to work for ten days after coming back.

“The average citizen is being kept apart from partners and families. Travel is now easy only for rich people because of the cost of tests.”

Being away from her loved ones also led to a deterioration of her mental health. 

“I had a few meltdowns already and my GP advised me to take antidepressants. My mental health is very poor.”

Like other people in her situation, Dagmara complained the public discussion is centred on holidays: “I just wish the government paid attention to people like me,” she added. 

"Most people have no idea what we are going through"

HeraldScotland: Mathieu Bottier, from France, is based at the University of Dundee. He has been unable to see his family across the channel or his partner in the US for over a year.Mathieu Bottier, from France, is based at the University of Dundee. He has been unable to see his family across the channel or his partner in the US for over a year.

Mathieu Bottier is a postdoctoral researcher from France. 

He is now stationed at the University of Dundee, where he moved in January 2020, unaware that he wouldn’t be able to see his family across the channel or his partner in the US for over a year.

“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “I think exceptions should be made for families to reunite since it seems to be safe for business trips.

“Several countries in Europe introduced exemptions over the last year for binational relationships.

“Families should be able to get free NHS tests and be allowed to isolate at home with control if needed.

“Nicola sturgeon did acknowledge several times the distinction between separated families and holidays, still, nothing was done and the answer is always ‘family is leisure’.

“The media coverage on travel has also been really quiet about this, mostly centered around beach holidays.

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Matthieu met his partner in St. Louis, Missouri, where he worked from January 2017 to December 2019. 

He was banned from visiting the US since March 2020, so after a year apart, he flew to see her last Christmas. 

However, he had to resort to a third-country route, spending two weeks in Mexico prior to entering the US. 

The couple is now making plans to reunite in Scotland in July under amber restrictions. 

The 32-year-old was hoping to receive both jabs before then, but having received his blue letter last weekend, it is likely he will not be fully vaccinated before September. 

“The vaccination program has been driven, at least partially, for younger people with the hope that travel would be possible,” he said.

“Yet Scotland is currently not considering that vaccines reduce the risk of transmission, while both the EU and the US are lowering restrictions for vaccinated travelers.

“Most people have no idea what we are going through.”

HeraldScotland: 'Chaotic' airports as Portugal goes onto the amber list

On Tuesday morning, Portugal - the only European country on the green list - was moved to the amber list. 

Travel to countries on the green list is allowed and isolation is not required upon re-entry as long as travellers test negative to Covid. 

Passengers returning from countries on the amber list are required to get tested three times and isolate at home for ten days regardless of the result. 

Arrivals from red-list countries are subjected to managed quarantine in a hotel. 

The Scottish Government currently lists trips related to specific jobs or essential medical treatment as “essential travel”.

READ MORE: Andrew Dunlop: It's time to cherish Scottish tourism and help it flourish

While the European Union is trialling a digital Covid certificate, known as “Green Pass”, to facilitate travel within its borders for fully vaccinated people, Scotland is still applying the same rules to those who received both jabs. 

Last week, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said a third wave of coronavirus was coming, after cases tripled in a month. 

She said the new Delta variant would be responsible for the rise in cases.

Ms Sturgeon added there would be an indication that the vaccines are weakening the link between infections and hospitalisations, however, hospital admissions are also rising. 

The Scottish Government said no reviews of international travel exemptions are expected and declined to comment further.