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Travel victory for Caribbean people

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The landmark ruling by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) two weeks ago in regard to a case filed by Jamaican Shannique Myrie represents a milestone along the road of Caribbean integration. The Court ruled in favour of Ms Myrie, that she was unfairly denied entry into Barbados and subjected to a humiliating vaginal search to boot.{{more}}

It is perhaps no surprise that Barbados happened to be the offending country, given the reputation that country has earned over the years for less than neighbourly treatment of CARICOM citizens. We shall come to this in more detail later. What is ironic though, is that not only is the complainant a Jamaican, but the Jamaican government enjoined in the application to the CCJ. The irony arises from the fact that Jamaica itself is no paragon of virtue where regionalism is concerned. Indeed, in Jamaica, the value of membership of CARICOM is being questioned, with even the official opposition Jamaica Labour Party raising the issue.

Throughout the region, Guyanese are unfortunately singled out for migrating to other countries and even accused of taking jobs of nationals. There is little focus, quite rightly so in my opinion, on the number of Jamaicans plying their trade and utilising their skills right across the CARICOM space. This is as it should be, if we are serious about Caribbean integration and the much-vaunted “One Caribbean”.

Barbados has achieved notoriety over the years for its treatment of Caribbean nationals entering its territory or working there. Countless numbers of Guyanese and Vincentians in particular, can testify to this. Many are the tales from our own people, many just being intransit through Barbados, about the humiliation and ignominy they have had to endure. Not by all the immigration and customs officers to be fair, but enough to sully the name of the Barbadian people. There are many Barbadians, including some employed at the airport, who do not subscribe to this behaviour and practice.

Over time there has developed among “small islanders” a sense that they face discrimination at the Grantley Adams International airport, and that, as lawful citizens of the Caribbean, legitimate travellers, they are not treated the same as tourists from North America and Europe, for instance. This extends beyond customs and immigration officials to attitudes on the part of some who work for our regional airline, LIAT, in which St Vincent and the Grenadines is a major shareholder. Even the courtesies which ought to be extended to Vincentians transiting the airport on the way home from extra-regional destinations are often not offered, even though we have a SVG intransit desk there at the airport. No wonder most Vincentians can’t wait for the opening of the Argyle international airport!

I have detected a noticeable improvement in recent times, whether the Myrie case has anything to do with it, I cannot tell. What it does, however, is undermine the bonds which we share and create unnecessary animosity between peoples. It is important that we do not paint all Barbadians with the same brush and recognize that many Barbadians do not uphold this sense of discrimination against their neighbours; we have a great deal in common in our history, including intermixing and intermarriage.

While Barbados may be singled out, regional travellers can relate unpleasant experiences on entry into other countries as well. The CCJ ruling based itself on the articles of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, the legal framework for CARICOM integration. It also cited prominently the decision of the 28 th Meeting of Heads of State and Government of the Caribbean Community to the effect that “all nationals (of the Community) shall be entitled to an automatic stay of six months upon arrival…” in the territory of another CARICOM state. Provision was made for exceptions on the grounds of national security or the proven bad character of the traveller.

Yet, how many of us have not landed in a neighbouring country, peaceful law-abiding citizens with no criminal record, only to be extensively quizzed by immigration, even Customs, after given entry, as though it is not our automatic right. It is bad enough in larger countries, but right here in the OECS, with all our rights to live and work in another OECS country, hassle-free travel is still to be guaranteed.

Hopefully the CCJ ruling should shake up the “refuseniks” and should bring home forcefully to governments that they must insist that regional regulations be respected and enforced. It is they who must let public employees know that they must act in accordance with the law.

Finally, the CCJ ruling again emphasises that our legal jurisprudence can work in practice. It will strengthen the call for cutting the colonial umbilical cord to the Privy Council and instituting the CCJ in full.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social com-mentator.

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