A TWO-day meeting of the Caribbean Community’s free movement officials is scheduled to begin today amid spreading disillusionment over the continuing failures by member governments to make this a reality for too many citizens who remain exposed to hostile treatment and worse, at regional ports of entry.
Lately, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and The Bahamas in particular, have often been in the news with negative reports involving treatment of Caricom citizens either denied entry or deported as illegal immigrants.
But following last month’s denial of entry and subsequent expulsion from T&T of 13 Jamaican nationals, a virtual storm of protest erupted within Jamaica with some passionate calls for a trade boycott of this country’s exports to that Caricom partner state.
Conscious of the volume and worth of their bilateral trade and investment relations as the Community’s two most developed manufacturing-based economies, a hurriedly-arranged two-day meeting was held in Kingston at foreign ministers level, initiated by Winston Dookeran’s Jamaica counterpart, Arnold Nicholson.
While awaiting the outcome of this latest meeting of the Community’s free movement officials following the conclusion of their agenda business tomorrow, it seems appropriate and timely for the public to learn of relevant aspects of the “agreement” reached between the foreign ministers of T&T and Jamaica during their December 2-3 meeting in Kingston.
Despite doubts from the cynics, that meeting could well prove a pace-setting event according to the “agreed minutes”, depending on the will to implement.
The foreign ministers and their advisers first focused on an overview of hassle-free movement for Jamaicans into T&T and, relatedly, implications of the recent historic ruling by the Port of Spain-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on the rights of citizens to free intra-regional movement resulting from the case involving the Barbados government and Jamaican national Shanique Myrie.
They discussed the “Community law’’ as clarified by the CCJ’s ruling in the Shanique Myrie case as well as the entitlement of Caricom nationals to a six-month entry stamp—“unless one of two conditions is not fulfilled, namely, the passenger is ‘undesirable’, or will pose a charge (or burden) on the public purse, and these conditions must be interpreted strictly or narrowly’’.
The minutes also reflect consideration given to the CCJ’s ruling on the “appeals process” against procedures enforced by immigration authorities to deny entry into any member state—all of which are signatories to the revised Caricom Treaty governing the operations of the single market and economy.
While in T&T the Minister of National Security, Senator Gary Griffith, has publicly rebuked his Foreign Minister colleague, Dookeran, for failing to engage in prior consultation with him before the “agreement” reached with Jamaica’s Nicholson. The reality is that unless either side fails to implement the spirit and letter of the “Kingston Accord”, then Caricom could well be faced with even wider and deeper challenges to make a reality of its commitment to “One market for one people”.
The minutes of the Dookeran/Nicholson meeting clearly point to changes that must be pursued in relation to free movement of Caricom citizens. For instance, it was agreed that “legislative changes” may have to be introduced, including, “in the interim, new directives to be given to immigration authorities to take account of Community law with a view to application administratively…”
Further, according to the minutes obtained by this columnist, the foreign ministers and their respective high-level advisers discussed the “complaints procedures” adopted at last month’s five-day meeting in Guyana of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) in relation to Caricom nationals seeking to exercise the right of entry into a member state.
They agreed to “disseminate information on the procedure through the appropriate channels and to make the complaints form available at points of entry.
The COTED meeting also decided that in the event of a denial of the right of entry, the involved “Caricom national should, in accordance with Article 36.1 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, be advised of the right to consular representation and that access to such representation should be facilitated by the receiving state..”
In Kingston last month, the Nicholson meeting agreed on the need for “appropriate facilities” to accommodate travelling passengers who are detained at points of entry pending return to their homeland, and that the relevant airlines “be exhorted to ensure that suitable provisions are made”.
In what could well provide the basis for wider guidance by the Community as a whole, the Kingston Accord, as reached between the two foreign ministers should be shared with all governments of the 15-member community, even as T&T seeks to overcome current “political hiccups’’ resulting from some negative comments by National Security Minister Griffith.
Yesterday in its editorial, the Barbados Daily Nation, noted that Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, “would have difficulties ignoring derogatory remarks by Mr Griffith that Caricom citizens were treating T&T as “a shopping mall’’ in their exploitation of the community’s provisions governing intra-regional freedom of movement’’.
Therefore, the editorial added, “we await developments on this issue on the Prime Minister’s return from South Africa…”
Well, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar is expected to be back home tomorrow to preside at her next regular Cabinet meeting.