Heartache And Longing: The Binational Couples Separated By Covid

“Being indefinitely separated from the most important person in my life is breaking me,” says Arietta, 27, from Dundee.

The university graduate met her partner Matej Knezevic, 32, online in 2019 – and there was immediately a spark. After meeting face-to-face in December that year, they swiftly knew they wanted to be together. But fast forward two years, and they’ve found themselves in an emotionally trying situation.

They are one of thousands of couples who’ve been separated for months on end by strict and often complicated Covid-related travel restrictions. While such restrictions have been put in place to keep people safe, many say it’s unfair people can leave the UK for work, but not to be reunited with their loved one.

Matej, a journalist and cameraman, lives in Zagreb, Croatia, which is ultimately where Arietta wants to live – for the 27-year-old, who preferred not to share her surname, Zagreb feels like home. In the early stages of their relationship, Arietta aimed to visit Matej in Zagreb every few months, depending on money and university commitments. But when the lockdown hit, their new relationship was forced into snatched phone calls and messages.

The past year of separation has been tough for the couple, but especially so for Arietta, who lives with her seven-year-old daughter. “I grew up in a difficult situation; I’ve never had a family or support network, or a place to call home,” she tells HuffPost UK. “And now I have all that, I’m not allowed to go back to it.

“It’s the most painful thing I have ever experienced… but the worst part is not knowing when we’ll see each other again.”

Arietta with her partner Matej.

While Arietta understands the need to limit unnecessary travel, she feels the policy has been an “unnecessary cruelty” when people have been able to travel for work, but not be reunited with their loved ones. At times, it’s been incredibly lonely. “I’ve become depressed and have problems sleeping,” she says. “I can’t bear the thought of living for countless more months, a year, or more, like this.”

A survey by Love Is Not Tourism UK (LINT) of 400 people separated from their partners found 61% often felt depressed or hopeless, while 68% were worried about relationship issues, including arguments and break-ups. Some reported feeling suicidal and the group had to direct them to the Samaritans.

Since the pandemic hit, the LINT movement has gathered pace globally, giving a voice to those separated from loved ones by travel restrictions. Its aim is to tell governments, “love is essential and therefore not tourism”.

Currently, people in the UK can’t travel to see loved ones, but they can travel for work, volunteering, education, medical visits or to provide care and play elite sports (amongst other things). It’s illegal to travel abroad without a reasonable excuse, and people can be fined thousands if they attempt to.

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