Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says his government welcomes the ruling this month that the Barbados government in 2011 breached a Jamaican’s right to enter the country under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.
The Jamaican, 25-year-old Shanique Myrie, was denied entry into Barbados on March 14, 2011.
She took the Barbadian government to court, claiming she was discriminated against because of her nationality.
The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) awarded her BDS$75,000.
She further claims she was subjected to a body-cavity search in unsanitary and demeaning conditions before being detained and deported the next day to Jamaica.
Gonsalves told a press briefing on Tuesday that the decision “clarifies a wide range of issues regarding the Revise Treaty of Chaguaramas 2001 and decision of the Heads of State and Government of 2007, regarding the hassle free travel for CARICOM nationals and the automatic six-month stay.
Gonsalves, who is a lawyer, said that having read the judgement, he has advised the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Security — which includes immigration –, the Chief Immigration Officer, and the Attorney General.
He said the judgement is “sound” and “the court has not said anything which we have not agreed to as governments, as leaders.
“All they have done is to pronounce on a particular case that has been brought to them within the framework of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and the 2007 decision of heads of government.”
He said CARICOM nationals have an automatic right of entry to other CARICOM states, subject to the rights of the respective states to deny entry on the ground of undesirability or that a person is likely to be a charge on the public purse.
“But the court correctly says that these exceptions must be interpreted and applied in the narrowest manner, because it is the right which is established of automatic entry, and that any state which says you are undesirable for entry or that you are likely to be a charge on the public purse, that it is the state which is making that determination … [that] … would have the burden of establishing, if challenged, that you are indeed a burden and you are likely to be a charge on the public purse,” Gonsalves said.
He said that under Kingstown’s immigration laws, those decisions are left to the immigration officer “simply to say you are undesirable”.
He however said this is not the case when dealing with CARICOM nationals.
“When you are dealing with CARICOM nationals, the Community law applies,” he siad, adding tha the Community law revails when there is a conflict with domestic law.
“… and you have to put your domestic house in order to meet the Community law,” Gonsalves said.
He said that within the regional grouping, a CARICOM national can only be judge to be undesirable in relation to fundamental interest of the state”, and listed maintenance of public morals, national security and public safety, and public health as the only reasons.
He said that if entry is being denied to a CARICOM national on the ground that they are undesirable or likely to be a charge on the public purse, the reason must be given in writing immediately.
“This means that forms have to be prepared to be filled out by the immigration officer,” Gonsalves said, adding that in such circumstances, the CARICOM national must be informed of their right to appeal.
He said the right to appeal has to be accompanied by “an instant structure”.
“In other words, you go to the Chief Immigration Officer,” he said, adding that there would also be further opportunities, afterwards, if the Chief Immigration Officer, with whoever he has to consult, denies entry.
“Then that issue will be resolved later on at a court if that is where it goes to.”
Gonsalves said that persons denied entry must be allowed a telephone call to contact their consul, relatives, or a lawyer.
He further said that persons detained have to be held “in a place which meets certain minimum international standards”.
Gonsalves said “the most difficult” of the issues, which arise, is that of public safety — national security,
“… sometimes, clearly, you may have information which you can’t state all the reasons, so that is, too, a subject that has to be dealt with very carefully and circumspectly.”
He said that he suspects that in such a situation, the Chief Immigration Officer will contact the police chief and the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Security for guidance
“But those cases are likely to be few and far in between,” Gonsalves said.
He further noted that while these circumstances affect CARICOM citizens generally, there are special circumstances relating to persons with CARICOM skills Certificate.
I am very happy to see this exposition of the recent CCJ ruling by our Prime Minister. This is especially so because I was disturbed to see a report of a speech by the Prime Minister of Barbados, Mr Freundel Stuart, in which he reportedly “voiced concern” about the implications of the ruling because “an automatic six-month stay for CARICOM nationals visiting Barbados would attract the unemployed and criminals.” This was reported to be part of an address at a meeting of the St Philip North branch of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) at Hilda Skeene Primary School. He is further reported to have said that “people with good jobs were unlikely to be keen on spending six months in Barbados.”
My reaction to that report was that (a) he could not have read the CCJ ruling before making those statements; (b) he either does not know the decisions of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community, or he believed, as some of his lawyers are reputed to have argued, that the absence of a law on the subject in Barbados would override the decisions of the Heads of Government, and (c) he seriously underestimates the “Caribbean” feelings of many of us Caribbean nationals. Does he seriously think that we do not have people in the Caribbean who would welcome a short stay in another Caricom country in order to get to know that country better? If that were so there would be no point in the recent discussions about the exchange of students between Caricom member states precisely so that we can get to know each other better. According to PM Stuart, if I am doing just fine in my country I have no interest in going anywhere else in the region, or at least, not to Barbados. That, I think, is a manifestly false assertion, and a great underestimation of Caricom nationals.
So I welcome PM Gonsalves statement. I hope it is reported throughout the region. And I hope that we all provide adequate training to our Immigration officials so that we can carry out this mandate of the Heads of Government.
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