The news has been dominated recently by stories of returning Jamaican cruise ship workers – sometimes complaining, sometimes happy to be home – with another cruise ship arriving today carrying around 174 workers. Then there are the deportees, a monthly delivery of Jamaicans – a separate issue altogether, but all have to go into quarantine upon arrival. More are arriving this week.
The logistics are quite overwhelming for the Ministry of Health and Wellness and their workers. Moreover, the negotiations and arrangements that have to be made to bring the thousands of Jamaicans living abroad (besides those on cruise ships) are far more complex and detailed than anyone looking on from the outside might imagine.
Therefore, I decided to post the entire statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson Smith at last Friday’s sitting of the Upper House, because it is important to understand that diplomatic and consular matters are not simply a matter of waving a magic wand, as some might think. I know this from my years of experience working at a diplomatic mission. A great deal of patience, determination – and especially, attention to detail – is required. It’s incredibly hard work and long hours.
This is especially true during any crisis situation, and we have to keep in mind, always, that the COVID-19 pandemic is simply unprecedented. You have to create a whole new rule book, as you go along; and resources (human and otherwise) are limited. So, let’s consider all these factors, before passing judgment.
STATEMENT to the SENATE by HMFAFT
UPDATE ON THE WORK OF MFAFT IN SUPPORT OF JAMAICANS OVERSEAS DURING COVID19 PANDEMIC
Mr President, Members of the Senate will recall that I had recently undertaken to provide an update on the activities and actions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade during this COVID- 19 Pandemic.
Mr President, it bears repeating that the Ministry, which I am privileged to lead, is staffed by a remarkable, committed cadre of professionals both here in Kingston and in our overseas Missions. The role and responsibility of the Ministry in normal times includes the most critical function of the support of and assistance to Jamaicans overseas, both those permanently resident there who are our Diaspora and those who are temporary and transient travellers. This is a function too often taken for granted and not fully appreciated until there is an emergency and my Ministry becomes the valued interlocutor, problem solver, facilitator and care provider. COVID- 19 has brought this into stark focus.
Our teams of personnel have risen to this global challenge and the responsibilities and role we play are indeed critical, eclectic, wide and varied in range and scope, but nonetheless do have limitations. I hasten to say that we are a small Ministry, and therefore the teams in place here and abroad are small, but expectations are large. I share this to underscore the reality we face daily as we undertake with tenacity and resourcefulness the defence and support of Jamaicans across the globe. We have continued to work virtually and remotely as required and employed creative ways to get the work done. Our Foreign Service is also augmented by a valiant network of Honorary Consuls, some 90+ strong, who perform voluntary duties on behalf of the GOJ.
Mr President, as you know many Jamaicans were caught overseas when our borders closed in March and have had challenges remaining where they found themselves. As you may have heard the Prime Minister say on Monday, since the activation of the immigration portal on the JAMCOVID19 website close to 9000 Jamaicans have registered to come home under the controlled re- entry protocols. The Jamaicans on the recent flight from the UK, two flights from the USA and flight from Canada are counted among that number. The House will be aware of 1044 Jamaicans on the RCCL vessel Adventure of Sea who begun disembarking yesterday. They too are among that total. Thankfully the are now all back in Jamaica.
Mr President, I must here thank our bilateral partners who have generously assisted in the repatriation and support of some of our nationals:
- My thanks go to the Government of Canada for allowing, free of cost, 20 Jamaicans to come home on a charter flight destined to repatriate Canadian nationals from Jamaica.
- I acknowledge the cooperation received from the Government of Antigua and Barbuda for facilitating the return of 20 nationals on a repatriation flight they arranged for their students at University of the West Indies, Mona.
- I wish to also acknowledge the TUI Cruiseline for having agreed to provide 7 complimentary seats for the most dire hardship cases among 40 Jamaicans on their charter flight which brought home 84 of their crew, including the 43 from the Marella Discovery 2.
- Thanks to the Government of the Dominican Republic for their humanitarian gesture in allowing free of cost the return of 2 Jamaicans who had special medical situations.
- The Cuban government have also graciously housed in a hotel 2 Jamaican females and a new-born infant until they can be returned, hopefully very soon.
Mr President, the development and operationalization of the Jamcovid19 has been one in which I, my Permanent Secretary and Consular team are involved with on the backend, ensuring the necessary prioritization and attention is given to hardship cases – especially where the Ministry or overseas missions had been working with them even prior to their registration. These Jamaicans are the same individuals which my Ministry has been in dialogue with and have supported in different ways for weeks – and in fact for some, months, as we must count some of our hundreds of nationals affected in China from the onslaught of the virus.
I wish to briefly detail some of the activities which have been a critical focus.
Beginning with the Ministry in Kingston, the Consular team has fielded hundreds of telephone calls and emails from affected persons and their relatives seeking advice and assistance, cataloguing their needs and taken action at a granular level to connect and deliver help to persons overseas; collaborated, coordinated and liaised with MDAs, our Diaspora and other stakeholders in the management of this crisis. Our work has been spread over 40 countries and efforts are focused on the most vulnerable, those with specific consular needs and demonstrable urgent need to return.
In respect to our overseas Missions, I shall go by region to give a snapshot but not an exhaustive account, beginning with:
USA – the most popular destination for tourism, business, study and transit has the largest number of Jamaican stranded overseas. Our Embassy in Washington, D.C. and Consulates General in New York and Miami used their initiative, influence and networks to support our nationals. Toll free lines were established to manage the large volume of calls, for example.
In New York – through the Consulate General we identified and paid for accommodation for a number of nationals for several weeks who were homeless and or living in particularly vulnerable circumstances. Members of our Diaspora and Diaspora organizations rallied to provide assistance to scores of persons, including students displaced with the closure of their institutions where they had no family support to assist with same. Meals and supplies have been collected from generous companies and individuals and continue to be distributed to those in need. – note as recently as last weekend the Consul General, in conjunction with GraceKennedy distributed to a large community base through a Bronx-based church. The Consul General provided food for 300 persons.
Our Consul General in NY also negotiated successfully with employers of Jamaican H2B Hotel workers in West Virginia, Utah, Wisconsin, Illinois and Vermont, who agreed to accommodate them until their return to Jamaica. In addition, she was able to secure summer employment for several workers in new hotels, so those can remain in the US and continue working.
Our Consulate General in Miami has been working with the Jamaican Diaspora in the Southern USA to extend assistance in the provision of accommodation, food, personal packages, spiritual and mental health counseling, as well as continue to make logistical arrangements for persons to return home. They are working assiduously with corporations, civic leaders, community associations and community support groups with a team of experts offering pro-bono services. Jamaican restaurateurs and individuals who have been exceptionally responsive:
o Several restaurants – Dutch Pot; D & G; Tropical Oasis; Reggae Pon de Grill – continue to provide daily prepared meals to the locations of the nationals.
o Grace Foods (USA) donated large amounts of non- perishables.
o Best Dressed Chicken donated large quantities of chicken parts.
o Kiwanis Clubs in South Florida(Greater Sunriseand Lauderdale Lakes); Jamaican Women of Florida (JWOF); Jamaica United Relief Association (JURA); Jamaican Alumni Associations, and Sawgrass Inn & Conference Centre have provided hotel rooms.
A medical practitioner consented to work with the Consulate to providing tele-med services on request and has so far assisted 30 persons. The Mission has also received and distributed medication for nationals.
I acknowledge also the incredible coordinated efforts involving Mission Staff in Washington, New York and Miami and the CAD at HQ in coordinating the two flights out of the USA last week, bringing 93 Jamaicans out of New York and 94 out of Fort Lauderdale. These were some of the most urgent cases considered for re-entry at this time. Efforts are ongoing and there is so much more to be done in coming weeks.
In Canada our High Commission in Ottawa and Consulate General in Toronto have also attended to the large volume of enquiries, requests for support and guidance coming from visitors, international students, temporary foreign workers (persons on contract), and undocumented Jamaican nationals. The concerns that have been raised by some of these individuals include access to: accommodation, food, funds to support protracted stay (mostly visitors and students) and medical treatment. In some cases, persons have lost loved ones which has proven to take a toll on their mental health. Also, the impact on the immigration status for those legally in Canada due to the closure of Jamaica’s borders is a frequent query fielded.
Members of the Global Jamaica Diaspora Council in Canada, Heads of various Jamaican Canadian organizations and Churches have been mobilized and coordinated an approach developed to respond to the challenges of our citizens in Canada. Primary focus has been rendering temporary relief to Jamaicans in need and our Missions are working with the community, who are hosting a COVID19 Fundraising Telethon on 30th May.
In the Caribbean region –
Our High Commission in Port of Spain, which covers 16 territories, has registered and undertaken to assist over 108 stranded nationals, including 42 students, in collaboration with our network of Honorary Consuls in the region. The registration of stranded nationals, both on land and at sea, is ongoing and through a hotline, social media and mailing list vital information and guidance has been disseminated. There has been fundraising and donations of cash and kind received from Diaspora members which have been distributed to the destitute and individuals in need in Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados in particular. Our Honorary Consuls in Barbados and Antigua & Barbuda have been absolute stars in continuing to generously support Jamaicans in those territories.
In Cuba, the Embassy has been instrumental in finding housing, meals and medication for nationals as well as provision of food for students, who are mostly medical students. While Jamaica’s Ambassador to Cuba has provided bleach and other sanitization products for students requesting same, the Caribbean Caucus has also been working together to obtain PPE for students. The repatriation of a number of stranded nationals as well as pre-Med students (requested by parents of self-funded students) is also currently being arranged through our HQ and a commercial airline.
In China our Embassy has provided sterling support to over 600 Jamaican nationals found across every Province in that vast country. I have previously described the work and role of our Embassy there, which has seen our nationals through the phases of the unprecedented crisis there, and continue in their effort to assist. They are currently facilitating 25 medical students to return to Jamaica as soon as possible.
Mr President, allow me to briefly touch on Europe where our Missions in Brussels and Berlin primarily have acted to provide consular support by way of information and tangible assistance to Jamaicans stranded within the jurisdiction of the Missions – Belgium, France, The Netherlands, Spain and Germany. The Missions have rallied members of the Jamaican communities to assist our countrymen and women and organized the provision of groceries and supplies, prepared meals, travel health insurance, medical assistance, including organizing counsellors and mentors to address the emerging emotional issues.
In the UK our High Commission has been fully engaged with Jamaicans stranded there addressing their needs and was instrumental in organizing passengers for evacuation on the TUI flight as well as importantly negotiating and arranging the TUI flight with that company. They continue to support our nationals and meet the demands as best as they are able with scarce resources, as in other locations.
In Southern Africa our High Commission in Pretoria, with the critical assistance of a number of Honorary Consuls, has been communicating and supporting a number of business persons, missionaries and tourists, and has even provided warm clothing and groceries to some Rastafarian Elders, who are stranded in South Africa and additional funds provided to help to insulate their accommodation.
Mr President, as said at the outset, this is but one aspect of the work of the Ministry, which in the context of the Covid19 crisis I felt merited an update to the House. We recognise that the welfare and safety of our nationals is paramount and so we continue to work with a great deal of determination and fortitude to seek the best outcomes on behalf of the Jamaican people.