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Couples separated by Covid use Croatia to meet - and marry

Marcus Parekh
·5 mins read
Couples are using Croatia as a place to meet - REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
Couples are using Croatia as a place to meet - REUTERS/Antonio Bronic

When Chris and Anna parted ways at Warsaw Airport in July 2019, they could never have imagined it would be the last time they would see each other for more than 14 months.

Like many other unmarried couples their relationship was frozen by coronavirus border controls erected overnight.

“The whole distance was like love heroin, an endless yearning and craving, a yearning and craving that was perpetually unfilled,” Chris, 33, a historian from America, recalls of his daily phone contact with Anna, 33, a technical account manager from Poland.

But if the pandemic was the ultimate test of their relationship, Chris and Anna passed emphatically - they are now happily married and living together, legally.

None of it would have been possible, however, without Croatia.

Couples locked away from their partners in different countries have been turning up in numbers in the Adriatic tourist trap.

While most governments worldwide refused to extend exemptions granted to those who are married, which allow for spouses to cross closed international borders, Croatia  opted for a more relaxed border policy. A citizen of any nation can enter without a need for quarantine, provided they can present a negative Covid-19 test taken less than 48 hours prior to their arrival. It is the only country in Europe where that is possible, due to it's exemption from the Schengen area.

Not only did Chris and Anna take advantage of Croatia's rules, they also tied the knot there - allowing them to finally settle their whirlwind romance in Warsaw.

“After I saw Anna enter Croatia at the airport, all of joy was restored,” Chris said. 

Kate, 27, an American professional netball player, met her Portuguese husband João, 27, two years ago while they both lived and worked in Portugal.

They had planned to marry prior to the pandemic but coronavirus prevented them from even seeing each other. When Kate’s netball contract ended in May, she was forced to return to the States. João meanwhile took a new position in Germany.

“I started to feel like I was in a depression spiral,” Kate says. “I started to realise that it very well could be 2021 or later that I would see him again. And the very thought of that was gut-wrenching.”

Like the rest of the Schengen area, Germany’s borders remain closed to Americans, so Kate and João had to improvise. with separate holidays to Croatia where they met again

As husband and wife, they are now allowed to travel together to Germany, where they have started a new life.

There are countless stories of couples separated by strict border policies worldwide. The World Health Organisation insists that closed borders do little to contain the spread of the virus and simultaneously cause significant social and economic damage.

Maggie Foster, who started the #LoveIsNotTourism movement which advocates for the reunification of separated couples, believes continued closed border policies represent a broader global political trend: “It is reflective of nationalistic politics that the borders are still closed. There are better ways to protect public health without closing borders. It is not sustainable or scientific to pursue a closed border policy.”

Other European nations are slowly beginning to allow some exemptions for unmarried couples. Denmark now allows the partner of a Danish resident or citizen to move to the country, provided they can prove their relationship. In Germany, Germans may bring a foreign partner into the country, but only if they have met in Germany before.

Moritz Körner, a German MEP for the Free Democratic Party, has called for a unified approach throughout the EU.  

“Denmark’s solution is simple but others, such as Germany and the Netherlands, have complex ideas. Why not copy the system that functions well and replicate the best scenarios? This shows the current solution we have is stupid.”

American actress Whoopi Goldberg recently threw her support behind couples separated by borders, tweeting: “Let's get the doors open for these folks. Nobody is looking for a vacation - they want to get back to their loved ones.”

Sunbathers in Croatia - DENIS LOVROVIC/AFP via Getty Images
Sunbathers in Croatia - DENIS LOVROVIC/AFP via Getty Images

Draconian border policies are not limited to Europe either. Dr David Poon, a Canadian, set up Faces of Advocacy after his long-term Irish partner was denied entry despite being granted an exemption by the Canadian embassy in Dublin. Canada’s confusing political structure means that border agents have the power to override immigration agents.

Faces of Advocacy was established to pressure the Canadian government to redefine ‘immediate family’, which it uses to determine who can enter the country. Currently, it only includes spouses, common law couples, dependent children and parents of Canadians.

“We believe in a path of reunification, safely, consistently and compassionately,” Dr Poon says. “I ask the Canadian government: does a marriage certificate lower your risk of contracting Covid?”

Desiree Chan, 29, a business owner in Burlington, Ontario, finds herself in a similar situation. Her partner Tommaso, 24, is an Italian residing in Genoa. Desiree is currently four months pregnant with their child.

“Going into my 4th month of pregnancy, all the ups and downs such as morning sickness, body changes and emotional changes have been extremely difficult without my partner by my side.”

“I have considered travelling to Italy to get our marriage license. However my fear is travelling pregnant during this global pandemic which ultimately puts myself (I have asthma), our unborn child, and others at risk.”