GEORGETOWN, Guyana — While Barbados’ new immigration policy was not on the agenda of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) heads of government conference in Trinidad and Tobago on Sunday, Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo and St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves used the occasion to air their concerns regarding the move by the David Thompson administration to toughen its immigration policy regarding non-nationals.
Guyana President Bharrat Jagdeo. AFP PHOTO The two leaders feel such a policy will undermine the region’s integration drive, the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).
At a news conference at the end of the one-day meeting on Sunday, Gonsalves was the first to raise the issue when he responded to questions about previous statements he made in which he expressed his concerns about the immigration issue.
“You cannot expect to cherry pick in the integration movement, the CSME. Freedom of movement is an important dimension of the CSME,” Gonsalves said.
While Gonsalves said he would not name the CARICOM countries that in his view were being too harsh in their immigration policies towards some CARICOM nationals, he noted, there are several countries in the region with which St Vincent is having problems.
Saying that Gonsalves has identified those countries “privately all the time”, Jagdeo maintained that Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados “are the chief offenders”.
Gonsalves also said that sometimes it was a question of overzealous immigration officials.
Jagdeo described the manner some Guyanese and other CARICOM nationals have been treated by
St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves immigration officials in Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados as “despicable”.
Barbados Prime Minister David Thompson did not attend the news conference but Jagdeo said he discussed the matter with him during the CARICOM Heads special meeting at the Diplomatic Centre.
However, in defending Trinidad and Tobago, that country’s Prime Minister Patrick Manning said nationals of other CARICOM countries who live in Trinidad and Tobago and have broken the law have received “soft” treatment as opposed to being deported.
Manning did not say though, there would be a stronger enforcement of immigration laws against such CARICOM nationals as to the issue of how they were treated in this country even as the issue in Barbados is becoming a contentious in light of the deeper integration movement being pursued within the region.
“We have a history of fairly open borders here, even in circumstances where people violate the laws of Trinidad and Tobago. We have had a soft approach to that rather than send back, which we could easily have done. I mean the last time we did that, as far as I remember, was in the 60s,” Manning said.
He added that “Trinidad and Tobago understands very well that what community means is a communing of peoples, we understand that, and that there is a letter, a spirit of the law and we are trying to abide by the spirit of the law in addition to the letter,” Manning said.
Manning said that often such instances had nothing to do with official Government policy but rather “overzealous immigration officials”.