US travel ban stopping visit to widowed mother in France

An elderly British woman has told Connexion how she found herself alone in France after her husband died earlier this year, and her daughter in the US is unable to get to her due to the Covid-19 travel restrictions.

31 July 2020
Margaret Phillips with her husband Alan
By Thomas Brent

In March Margaret Phillips', 80, husband Alan, 84, passed away after suffering from pneumonia caused by Covid-19.

The elderly couple had lived together in France since 2012. 

One of her daughters, 56-year-old Helen Simonson who lives in the US, has been desperately trying to get to France to see her mother, but has been told by the French embassy in New York that “no exceptions” would be made to contravene restrictions on people in the US going to France at this time. 

Mrs Simonson expressed frustration to The Connexion: “Now my mother has been alone for months and it is weighing on her more and more. My father dies and how long am I to wait to see my mother in her time of greatest agony?" she said. 

People currently in the US are not yet permitted to enter France, unless they are French citizens or are EU citizens who live in France or are transiting through to their country of residence (both of these may be accompanied by their spouse and/or children), or non-European national residents of France or of another European country and transiting through France to get there, or they work in a field relevant to combating Covid-19.

On the European Commission's website it states that exceptions may also be made for “passengers travelling for imperative family reasons”, however it is up to each member state to interpret that recommendation. 

Mrs Phillips, who has another daughter, Lorraine Pearce, living in England, said she wants everyone to be together to say goodbye to her husband, whose ashes are being kept in a local funeral directors. 

“Lorraine is able to come across but it’s no good. I want to spread Alan’s ashes with both my daughters, as a family,” she said. 

Mrs Phillips and her husband moved to France in 2012, finding a home in the foothills of the Pyrenees in the Occitanie region. The couple celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in France last year. 

Mrs Phillips said she and her husband were “as one”, never doing anything unless they discussed it together first. “The big pathway we were walking on has gone into a small lane now. Hopefully I will continue to do what he would have liked me to do.”

'Suddenly I had spacemen appearing'

“He had his two cups of tea and a bowl of cereal as normal and everything was fine. He was a bit tired so he didn’t get up that morning. But in the afternoon he went a funny colour and his eyes went and I hit the panic button,” Mrs Phillips said. 

“Suddenly I had what looked like spacemen appearing. This is just how I remember it. They went upstairs and I didn’t see Alan anymore after that.” 

Mr Phillips died the following day, leaving Mrs Phillips alone except for a family friend who lives nearby. 

"The doctor rang me to say that he’d passed away and he had had pneumonia caused by Covid-19.”

In April, Mrs Phillips herself tested positive for the virus, and is still recovering from it. Her daughter invited her to England for a few weeks but Mrs Phillips has no plans to leave France saying she wished instead an exception could be made to the travel restrictions. 

“I feel so hopeless, but what can you do? You hear the politicians, they make their rules. But they don’t seem to take into account human problems,” she said.  

For Mrs Simonson in the US, her biggest concern is her mother’s health.

“My mother is 80, she is still recovering from a terrible bout of Covid-19 plus the death of her husband of sixty years. I supported my parents with many visits during my father's last two years, I can't believe that I am not there in her hour of greatest need.”

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