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Regional leaders to discuss state of Caricom free movement

Caribbean Community (Caricom) leaders will over the next two days discuss the extent to which nationals of member states are being allowed to move and work freely throughout the region.

Secretary General of the 15-nation grouping, Irwin La Rocque on Monday told the opening of the 37th regular summit in Guyana that immigration officers must be trained to abide by the rules of free movement. “To help with remedying some of the problems, we must increase the training and sensitization of our immigration officials for them to act more closely in line with the policies agreed to by their governments,” he said.

Guyanese and Jamaicans have over the years complained bitterly about being harassed by immigration officers on arriving in Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago. Jamaica recently released figures showing that  from January to December 2015, 325 were returned and from January to March 2016, 113 are already returned.

In handing down a ruling in favour of Jamaican, Shanique Myrie, who had been cavity searched and refused entry by Barbados’ immigration, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) had reiterated that Caricom nationals could be denied entry based on specific circumstances and had outlined the subsequent procedures to be followed.

Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Andrew Holness highlighted that for ordinary people, free movement is a tangible benefit of Caricom’s regional integration, something that his countrymen and women say complain is increasingly elusive. “Jamaicans have been expressing concern about increased cases of denial of entry and questioned treatment at ports of entry to other jurisdictions.”

Holness called for the hassle-laden travel of Jamaicans to be addressed meaningfully, while at the same time hinting that the issue is being addressed in bilateral talks with the unnamed Caricom member statement. “This must be addressed in a meaningful way otherwise the economic sense of Caricom becomes increasingly questioned itself. We have begun to discuss the matter bilaterally and we are encouraged by the level of understanding and responsiveness to our concerns,” he said.

The Prime Minister of Jamaica said bilateral consultation, supported by additional effort in Caricom’s institutions, “can make the movement of labour equal to that to the movement of goods a reality that would extend the progress and benefit of the integration effort.”

Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade. Kamina Johnson Smith has said based on the complaints received in relation to the recent refusals of entry into Trinidad and Tobago in March 2016, some persons indicated that they had been denied entry for reasons which had been unknown or unclear. “Furthermore, the reasons given for the denials of entry are not consistent with our understanding of the Shanique Myrie ruling which significantly reduces the discretion of the Immigration Officer in respect of nationals of CARICOM members who are also part of the CSME.”

Jamaicans, who have been refused entry by Trinidad and Tobago authorities, have complained  that they were not as upset about being denied entry into Trinidad and Tobago as they were about the manner in which they were treated while detained at the airport. They said they had to sleep in chairs or on the floor of the departure lounge of the airport; there was no access to proper bathroom facilities, and little or no food was provided. Some of the complainants also indicated that they were mocked and jeered by the security personnel, who were in charge of them.

Jamaica recently appointed a Commission of Inquiry to probe the economic and growth impact of Caricom on that island. Headed by former Jamaican Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, the Commission includes representatives from the political opposition, academics and civil society