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Caricom's free movement game

By Rickey Singh

WHEN I read the headline in last Thursday's Jamaica Observer—"US continues mass deportation of immigrants, says rights group"—I couldn't help thinking of the position in which Caricom governments find themselves to make any meaningful intervention on this human rights issue that requires a collective regional response.

Basically, if Caricom governments have boxed themselves into a difficult position by contradictory and, at times, quite distasteful actions, in dealing with cases of migrants from member states of the Community, then they would have to be quite careful in rushing to make representations—valid as they may be—on behalf of their affected nationals being harassed and, worse, allegedly denied basic rights, in the USA.

The CMC news report out of Washington, DC, quoted the highly reputable Human Rights Watch as disclosing evidence suggesting that US federal immigration officials "continue to impede Caribbean and other immigrants from accessing lawyers and also extending their time in custody".

Now, given the ongoing controversies surrounding conflicting attitudes of some regional governments that affect nationals of the community when exercising their right to travel freely within Caricom, or to take advantage of available opportunities to work in jurisdictions of choice, it would be interesting to learn whether any bilateral or multilateral intervention is likely by governments to ascertain respect for the legal rights and decent human treatment of Caribbean nationals who numbered among the current "mass deportation of migrants" by the ICE.

The political flip flops that have resulted in the shocking implementation deficit that characterises the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) is a distressing example of the politics of expediency—opportunism if you wish—and particularly so in relation to the "freedom of movement of nationals".

The latest example of shifting positions would include, surprisingly, the Prime Minister of St Kitts and Nevis, Dr Denzil Douglas, who will be the Community's new chairman for the next six months with the hosting in Basseterre next month of this year's annual Heads of Government Conference, scheduled to begin on July 1.

None of the participating governments involved with the single economy project has ever considered it necessary to make known an official policy statement that clearly outlines its own position on phased implementation of the first five categories of skilled Caricom nationals—later extended to ten (among them nurses and teachers)—who would be eligible to live and work in a Community state with relevant contingent rights.

Although the participating countries signed on July 5, 2001, the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that provides the legal foundation for the CSME, excuses, apologies, lack of any positive action have been the norm when it comes to instituting relevant policies and enact supporting legislation to make a reality of Article 46 on "movement of skilled Community nationals".

Even the wider issue of violations of "hassle-free" intra-regional movement of Caribbean nationals in a number of jurisdictions continue to attract complaints with a few member states being accused of hostile and even degraded treatment of visiting nationals.

Contrary to what was alluded to in a Barbados Sunday Sun article of June 12, titled "CSME in hindsight", no government of Caricom has ever promised what any sensible Community citizen ever seriously expected—"the opening of doors to all (my emphasis) Caricom nationals who wish to live in the country under the original freedom of movement regional plan".

Truth is, there never was such an agreed policy under what was referenced in that article as "the original freedom of movement regional plan".

Ironically, while Prime Minister Douglas was expediently "giving high marks" (as reported in the June 12 article) to Barbados in his interview with Tony Best, for being up front in dealing with the "thorny" free movement" of nationals issue, he seemed to have missed the lamentation of the Barbadian Prime Minister Freundel Stuart over the country's controversial processing of Caricom migrants who have worked for many years in Barbados and paid their taxes but are now hampered (said Stuart) "by the strict enforcement of a long-existing policy" to access health care to which they are entitled.

Question of relevance, therefore, is what precisely does Prime Minister Douglas now find commendable to emulate in the Barbadian experience in dealing with Caricom nationals to rationalise his own domestic approach to what remains a failure by regional governments to tackle a core problem in the creation of a seamless regional economy—namely the people-focused project of hassle-free movement for Community nationals and phased implementation of identified categories of skilled nationals to live and work in any participating member state?

And, as far as I am aware, no government of the Community has provided the public with data on the number of legal or suspected illegal Caricom migrants in their respective jurisdictions.

Or the estimated cost to the national treasury when such non-nationals access health care or any other facilities intended only for citizens of those jurisdictions.

The public needs to know how many governments have actually completed implementation arrangements to accommodate even half of the ten categories of skilled Community nationals.

• Martin Daly's column

returns on July 3

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