A few Sundays ago, I declared the coming week, West Indies Week,” and went viral soliciting all Caribbean people to join in a frenzy of celebrations. Who in the cricketing Caribbean region could avoid celebrating after the underdogs, the West Indies cricket team thrashed Sri Lanka at home?
I shouted to my Caribbean people home and abroad: “Eat oil down; ackee and salt fish; cou-cou and flying fish; crab and callalloo; salt fish and green fig; cook-up; curry and roti; pepperpot; mountain chicken; lobster Dominic; and so on.
“Don’t touch Yorkshire pudding or hamburger, this week. Wear all the West Indies cricket shirts you have… if you don’t have, buy. And, please raise Caribbean flags, high.” Instructions were flying. My internet connection crawled under the hefty load of to and fro-ing e-mails.
Suddenly so, ‘bam’ my West Indies flag broke at half-mast. Mourning started. Caribbean unity was awaiting a decision on a leg before wicket appeal made by Jamaicans.
That Sunday the Jamaica Observer newspaper carried an article in which a Jamaican woman said she was mistreated by officials at the Grantley Adams International Airport, Barbados. This was not the first time such a claim was made so some Jamaicans were furious with Barbadians, calling them “Barbarians” as they vented anger off and on-line. One gentleman urged his government to issue a travel advisory warning Jamaicans against travelling to Barbados, which was nicknamed ‘the dot’.
Incensed Jamaicans saw the matter as another example that the Caribbean Community (Caricom) was not beneficial to their country and Julian Archer cried: “Give us back our Jamaican passport. No Caribbean Community Passport around here.”
I deplore abuse. I hate discrimination, no matter whether it is based on gender, ideology, race, nationality, class or creed. I wasn’t at the airport so I cannot give evidence about the facts of the lady’s allegation. However, the claim reminded me that immigration issues within the Caribbean Community need a serious examination. Weshould also educate our Caricom nationals adequately about the provisions of the Single market including free movement of people.
Times of plenty are more favourable to integration than hard times. Economic conditions in the Caribbean are now difficult. The recession continues to bite into our heavily indebted economies; and the conditionalites imposed by lending agencies like the International Monetary Fund have brought turbulence to the economic and social conditions of our people. Circumstances are therefore pushing them to search for opportunities outside their home territories.
Traditionally favoured destinations have, however, tightened their entry rules. For example, the United States has raised visa application fees and demanded that these applications be made electronically perhaps believing that ‘economic refugees’ are likely to be on the wrong side of the digital divide. Even friendly countries, like Britain, the former mother country of many CARICOM nations are becoming less welcoming to us.
Last month, we read that St. Lucians and Vincentians were now required to have visas to enter Canada. The Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) is concerned about human trafficking; fraudulent travel documents and the excessively high number of asylum seekers from those Caricom countries. So the world is getting jumpy about how people enter their borders and Caricom nationals are now forced to look inward with added vigour.
Human trafficking and use of false documents are not problems exclusive to large countries. Barbados was cited by the United States Department of State among countries not doing enough to protect victims of this evil. Checking the flow of illegal drugs through the island’s sea and airport is also a battle. This combination can make some of the officers who monitor the island’s sea and air port more officious than normal.
None of these factors, however, can justify abuse. My view is: if in doubt about a visitor’s reason for entry, turn him back but don’t mistreat him.
Some Caricom nationals however will ask; “why deny me entry, I have a Caricom-labelled passport, I should have access to any part of this region? They believe the region is their home and nobody has the right to shut a door against them at any of its ports. That speaks to the Caricom under construction; the current Caricom is one whose borders are opening incrementally.
We must also remember that community members are all sovereign states with rights to protect their borders. Even the Europe Union, with its elements of federation and supranational institutions, have immigration issues. In April, Brussels threatened the United Kingdom with court action for failing to implement certain EU directives on immigration. All is not perfect there.
Look at the United States, their nationals have had border concerns. I recall Miss America 2003, Susie Castillo, crying after she was body-searched at Dallas airport during an inter-state trip.
The region is not alone on these issues but we need to find rational solutions for our challenges. It is crunch time when nationals of a Caricom country suggest that its government should put its defence force on standby in case another Caricom country doesn’t take action on an immigration matter.
It is also serious when Barbadians fear travelling to Jamaica and Jamaicans conjure up images of being man handled at our ports of entry. I have faith though the Myrie case now before the Caribbean Court of Justice will produce an approach that will affect how the region handles border matters and this will even out some of these bumps along the road to integration.
In the meantime, let’s continue to dance and sing ‘Rally around the West Indies’ and let us share our oil-down, jerk chicken and cou-cou and flying fish with each other.
- Barbados welcomes CARICOM nationals (antiguaobserver.com)
- Jamaica Seeks Fair Deal In Shared Caribbean Economic Plan (atlantablackstar.com)