Barbados not in breach of any Treaty obligations
- PM Thompson
By Gary Eleazar
Barbadian Prime Minister David Thompson is adamant that the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas does not, as a matter of law, provide for unrestricted freedom of movement of Community nationals, thus his government is within its right to remove undocumented nationals.
This statement from the Bajan leader, who is in Guyana for the 30th CARICOM Conference of Heads, emanated yesterday during a special briefing for the local and regional media, where recent immigration policy changes in his country were addressed
“It is described as a goal for our region,” said Thompson who pointed out that the CARICOM Heads had targeted 2008 as the timeframe for moving to full freedom of movement and subsequently, the timetable was revised to 2009. He noted that in the current economic downturn, it is highly unlikely that the indicative timeframe can still be met.
“So, to be clear, unrestricted freedom of movement is not in place in the Caribbean Community, and Barbados is not in breach of any of its Treaty obligations in removing those persons whose presence in our country is sanctioned neither by our Immigration Laws nor by any of the provisions within CARICOM to which we have agreed.”
In seeking to put his argument into context he recalled Errol Barrow, in his 1986 address to Heads where he stated, “I should like to believe that we are all committed to the principle of mobility and people interaction, to the principle, I repeat.
And, that we have an obligation to think and go on thinking out ways how such a principle might be applied without imposing on any territory a greater strain than its resources are able to support.”
Thompson explained that the essence of Barrow’s comment is the need for a balanced, manageable approach.
He explained that if two countries are the poles to which the unskilled movers gravitate, especially in times of economic recession, “how will they sustain their own economies, maintain social services, and provide a win-win for all?”
According to Thompson, “It is these inconvenient truths that we need to have the courage as leaders to confront honestly, in a spirit of mutual understanding, not public rancour.”
He added that because Barbados is forthright enough to admit that it is unable at this time to embrace full freedom of movement without some of the underlying issues, especially the matter of contingent rights, being seriously dealt with, “…is it responsible to charge headlong behind a noble ideal whose time has not yet come, only to trip over all the obstacles that we have clearly seen, defined, and in some cases studied, but left unresolved?”
He added also that in the 1989 Grand Anse Declaration, which was the catalyst for the modern CSME it spoke to the free movement of skilled and professional personnel as well as for contract workers on a seasonal or project basis.
He said that he therefore believes that until the growth in the regional economies is such that they can sustain full freedom of movement, we “should move towards a formal system of managed migration through guest worker programmes similar to the type we currently enjoy with Canada and the United States.”
In light of severe criticism and complaints of discrimination and maltreatment meted out to undocumented immigrants, especially Guyanese, Thompson announced that an independent review panel will be established to investigate any complaints with respect to the treatment of Caribbean immigrants by immigration officers or other enforcement agents.
This move he said was in a bid to ensure full transparency and objectivity.
“My Government does not condone abuse of power or inappropriate behaviour on the part of its public officials, and if evidence is produced that any of those empowered to take enforcement action have been excessive in the carrying out of their duties, they will be disciplined appropriately.”
Thompson also debunked claims that Guyanese alone were being targeted in the campaign to regularize undocumented immigrants, and as it relates to the charge that raids were being conducted in the dead of night, he confirmed this, while explaining that the decision was taken due to the fact that that was the time when people would be at home.
The Barbadian leader explained that in the absence of a consensus CARICOM decision to move to full freedom of movement, and in the absence of a Community policy on managed migration, his Government has taken interim action to regularize the situation of undocumented individuals.
He pointed out that persons who are CARICOM nationals and have entered Barbados before December 31, 2005, and have been residing in Barbados without appropriate documentation for eight or more years will be eligible to be considered for regularisation under an amnesty, provided that they apply before December 31, 2009 and meet the stipulated conditions, which include a full criminal check.
According to Thompson, individuals that fall outside of the eight-year period, and who have overstayed their time in the country, will be asked to leave.
“Those who do not leave voluntarily will be deported…In applying the new amnesty policy as well as in dealing with those who fall outside of its scope, I have every confidence that the Immigration and Law Enforcement authorities of Barbados are acting, and will act, in strict conformity with the laws of Barbados and with full respect for the rights and dignity of the individual.”
He added also that he was at a loss and found it hard to understand why the action of providing an amnesty for a large number of CARICOM nationals could generate what he called ill-informed commentary and misunderstanding. Barbados, he emphasized, has been most generous and accommodating to the citizens of CARICOM, including those whose movement is not sanctioned by the Treaty of Chaguaramas.
In elaborating on his country’s position with respect to the travel of CARICOM nationals into Barbados, Thompson said that in 2005 some 172,700 CARICOM Nationals landed in Barbados and that figure rose to 191,327 in 2006 and for 2008 it was recorded as 170, 670.
He explained that more than 70 per cent of those arrivals came from Guyana, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Thompson added that in 2005 a total of 572 CARICOM Nationals were refused entry and that figure rose to 1,165 in 2008.
He was quick to point out that that figure represents 0.6 per cent of the total that landed. He added that in 2006, some 209 CARICOM nationals were deported and in 2008 that figure was 235.
Three quarters of that figure were Guyanese and Jamaican nationals.
Between 2000 and 2008 more than 1,000 CARICOM nationals were admitted to Barbados under the Skilled Nationals programme.
Over 40 per cent of these were from Guyana, 20 per cent from Trinidad and Tobago and another 20 per cent from Jamaica.
In 2006, according to Thompson, 5,381 work permits were issued to CARICOM Nationals and that figure rose to 6,730 in 2007 and fell to 5,608 in 2008.
“Almost 90 per cent were issued to Guyanese nationals in 2008…in 2008, 1,717 student visas were issued to CARICOM Nationals of which 721 of these went to Guyanese nationals.”
Thompson was adamant that the Barbadian Immigration Department has, in all instances, been facilitating Guyanese nationals and the department is in frequent contact with officials in Georgetown, and will maintain the cordial relationship.
“As you are aware, the vast majority of unskilled CARICOM nationals who are working in Barbados, most with the requisite permission, but a considerable number without, are from Guyana,” said Thompson.
He opined that bilateral Government-to-Government negotiations could set the terms, based on labour market requirements, with employers formally contracting the numbers that are needed for specifically identified projects, and with provisions built in to guarantee decent wages, housing and health care.
“In this way identified labour shortages could be filled by properly documented CARICOM nationals, and not by irregular migrants whose circumstances leave them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.”