Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson Smith gave this statement today at the post-Cabinet press briefing. As she notes, this is not/not a new issue, by any means. As the Minister says, it’s time to turn over a new leaf. One hopes that, in the end, all will be well and settled – finally, and once and for all.
Cabinet Press Briefing – Wednesday 13th April 2016
- Recent reports in the local media about the denial of entry into Trinidad and Tobago of several Jamaicans and their mistreatment while detained overnight pending return to Jamaica have again sparked national concerns about the relationship between our two countries, including within the context of the implementation of our obligations under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (RTC) and the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).
- The denial of entry of Jamaican nationals and their treatment while awaiting return to Jamaica has been a longstanding issue between Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.
- We are all aware that discussions have been held before between our countries under different administrations.
Right of entry into other CARICOM territories
- Many Jamaicans associate or identify free movement in CARICOM specifically with the CSME regime. For many, free movement is the most important pillar of the CSME regime as it affords opportunities and greater mobility across the region.
- The free movement of persons under the CSME is covered by Articles 45 and 46 of the RTC. Article 45 commits CARICOM Member States to the goal of free movement of their nationals within the Community. These Articles cover two (2) different regimes: (i) the free movement of skilled nationals to travel to other CARICOM territories to engage in gainful employment; and (ii) the facilitation of hassle-free movement of CARICOM nationals (general travel). Details of this regime are available on the specific categories and criteria for travel of skilled workers. These may be found on the CARICOM website and in booklets produced by the CARICOM Secretariat.
Our understanding from the reports of denials of entry however, are that these generally do not concern persons seeking to enter on the basis of their certified skills. The issues therefore largely concern persons who understand the Treaty’s stated goal of free movement to afford them a right of entry, a matter addressed by the Shanique Myrie Case.
Hassle-free movement of CARICOM nationals (general travel)
- The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) ruling on the Shanique Myrie case clarified the rights of CARICOM nationals when travelling within the region. The CCJ ruled, inter alia, that pursuant to the 2007 Conference of Heads of Government Decision on the entitlement to a definite stay of six (6) months, CARICOM nationals have the right of entry into other CARICOM countries unless they qualify for refusal under two 2) exceptions, namely, (i) undesirability; or (ii) being a charge on public funds. These 2 reasons, however, must be interpreted narrowly.
- 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 were denied entry for reasons which were 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.
Rate of refusals of Jamaican nationals
- We note that although most Jamaican travelers over the last 18 months were allowed entry, we still believe that the rate of denials – and in particular over the last 3 months, is still too high. If this trend continues, it will be higher than even last year.
- NOTE FIGURES In 2014 – 98.2% landed – 15,451. 1.8% or 283 denied. We don’t have the confirmed percentages for 2015, but are aware from the Passport, Immigration & Citizenship Agency (PICA) that from January to December 2015, 325 were returned and from January to March 2016, 113 are already returned. So the numerical trend is clear.
Treatment of Jamaicans
- During the bilateral consultations in 2013 and 2014, one of the fundamental issues discussed was the urgent need for the Trinidadian authorities to put in place the appropriate facilities to accommodate passengers who are not landed, pending return to Jamaica. This has not been done.
- At the end of the consultations in 2014, Trinidad and Tobago undertook to examine all the options for providing facilities at the airport for persons denied entry. They have not addressed this issue as the mistreatment of Jamaican nationals detained in the airport continues to recur. It is evident from the written reports received from some of the Jamaicans, who were recently denied entry into Trinidad and Tobago, 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 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.
Action taken by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade
- Following frank discussions with my Trinidadian counterpart, Senator the Hon. Dennis Moses, Minister of Foreign & CARICOM Affairs, I have also written to Minister Moses, at the request of the Cabinet, to indicate the Government of Jamaica’s (GOJ) strong concerns regarding the most recent incidents of mistreatment of Jamaican citizens, and to indicate that we are anxious to be provided with concrete constructive solutions with specific timelines for addressing the issues which continue to plague relations between our two countries. It was made clear that the Cabinet is concerned that despite the level at which previous discussions were held, and positions adopted, the issues continue to recur.
- For clarity, the three specific concerns raised were (a)the high rate of denial of entry of Jamaicans by Trinidad and Tobago; (b) the treatment of Jamaicans by immigration officials; and (c) the lack of proper facilities to accommodate returnees detained overnight in the airport for the return flight to Jamaica.
I have asked my counterpart to indicate specific timelines within which his government or its agents (whether Caribbean Airlines or the Airports Authority of Trinidad and Tobago), will address the matters.
This letter was sent on Friday. My understanding is that Minister Moses will be taking it to the Cabinet of Trinidad and Tobago this week.
We are hopeful that as two new administrations within the CARICOM space, our Governments can set a new tone, and chart a new course going forward.
I wish to also make clear that I am in regular contact with the High Commissioner of Jamaica in Trinidad and Tobago, who is working hard on this and other consular matters. Up to yesterday I spoke with the Jamaican representative to the Board of Caribbean Airlines, to whom I previously wrote, and he has committed his efforts as well;
I have also requested formally that the matter of “Treatment of CARICOM Nationals Travelling in the Region’ be placed on the Agenda of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED), which takes place next week and is the CARICOM body charged with oversight for the CSME regime.
I wish all Jamaicans to know that they are in the forefront of my mind in each conversation, and with each letter I type on their behalf.
This Administration is committed to working to improve the current situation and we are hopeful that the new government of Trinidad and Tobago feels the same.