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ALBERT BRANDFORD: Appeasement? Self-interest? Caricom?

Albert Brandford, [email protected]

ALBERT BRANDFORD: Appeasement? Self-interest? Caricom?

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THAT IS A shocking number to me. Yet it seems like it is only T&T, Barbados, and other small islands our government have mouth for. Maybe because our fellow small islands are not ‘donor countries’.Pinnacle, a poster on the online Jamaica Observer reacting to the revelation that about 70 Jamaicans are deported weekly from the United States.

MUST SAY THAT I was a little surprised that Barbados’ Prime Minister Freundel Stuart had initiated a telephone call to his Jamaican counterpart ostensibly to cement the need for the two countries to work more closely at the bilateral level.

According to a Barbados Government statement such interaction would cover a range of issues, including immigration.

Such a telephone call would be unusual – a rarity, even – among these relatively new Caricom leaders who certainly don’t appear to have the close personal rapport of the Barrow, Burnham, Bird friendships.

The impression is that any conversations they have would be on the sidelines of Caricom conferences and no more.

Aback of the now infamous Myrie case and two more recent incidents involving Immigration and Jamaican nationals who are threatening lawsuits, one can understand the Prime Minister’s desire to tamp down any further fallout in bilateral relations.

But what was even more surprising was the release of some of the contents of their discussion – unheard of – which hints at the importance and high priority Stuart has placed on the immigration issue that not only reflects self-interest but also the potential historical threat to the future of the integration movement for which Barbados has lead responsibility.

Taken together with the seeming rush to release immigration figures, which under normal circumstances as a journalist I can tell you trying to get them would be akin to what my grandmother used to say would be like “pulling teet”, and suggests that our Government appeared to be approaching panic stage.

But one has to place such actions within a particular perspective.

It so happens that on the very day – Wednesday – that Stuart was placing his call to Andrew Holness, a chartered flight from the United Kingdom was touching down in Jamaica with 42 deportees, some of whom, according to press reports, said they were tricked and that the expulsions were unjust.

“Most hid their faces on release, except for one irate middle-aged man,” the Observer reported.

“He accused the British authorities of ‘using racism and bullyism’ to effect the deportations and blamed the Jamaican government of being a ‘sell-out’.

“He said he was sent back to Jamaica over a ‘few bags of weed’, but argued that the British ‘rob and rape the world and no one is holding them responsible for that’.

‘I’m a Rasta man, what do you expect of me? I smoke it,’ he said in reference to marijuana.”

Strangely, apart from a protest staged by an NGO outside the Jamaican High Commission in London, there was no public reaction from the government except by a National Security official who said such situations were not new and measures have been in place for some time to deal with them, including ensuring that preparations were made to receive the deportees.

So the weekly return of about 70 deportees from the US continues apace, and the regular chartered flights from the UK under a 2007 Memorandum of Understanding, along with a controversial deportation initiative named “Operation Nexus” failed to even elicit a stern diplomatic note to the British expressing ‘concern’ far less a worried telephone call to the British Prime Minister.

Yet, there was talk about a boycott of Trinidad and Tobago over its deportations and general treatment of Jamaican nationals.

Makes one wonder whether the commenter to the Observer cited at the top of this piece does not have a finger on the key pulse – “it seems like it is only T&T, Barbados, and other small islands our government have mouth for”.

Still, one can only hope that the Stuart initiative at the personal level with Holness will not turn out to be a Chamberlain-type of appeasement that could only lead to a worsening of this thorny immigration issue.

I suggest further training and refreshers for border officials who would be expected to show greater sensitivity and compassion for the unfortunates who visit us, but also diligence and firmness with the scammers and drug traffickers.

Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent. Email: [email protected]