By Athaliah Reynolds-Baker
KINGSTON, Jamaica (JIS) — Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago have signed an agreement outlining the path to take in improving free trade and free movement arrangements between the two countries.
The signing of the agreement follows two-days of talks between Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, A.J. Nicholson, and his Trinidad and Tobago counterpart, Winston Dookeran, stemming from a recent incident in which 13 Jamaicans were refused entry into the twin island republic.
Speaking at a press briefing on Tuesday, immediately following the talks, Nicholson said that, among the decisions coming out of the discussions, was the need for hassle-free movement for Jamaicans into Trinidad and Tobago, stressing that this must be applied in conformity with Community Law.
“Given the paradigm shift in immigration law and procedures in relation to the treatment of CARICOM nationals entering countries of the region, both our countries recognised the need for a common approach and interpretation of the law,” Nicholson stated.
He said it was also agreed that there must be a review of national legislation, to ensure uniformity in the application of the Shanique Myrie ruling by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
In addition, it was underscored that immigration officials, in exercising their discretion on entry or refusal, must show respect to each person seeking to enter the respective jurisdiction.
Nicholson also told journalists that notwithstanding the fact that a significant number of Jamaicans has entered Trinidad and Tobago without any difficulty within the last year, it was agreed that the immigration authorities of both countries must cooperate in addressing allegations of profiling.
In this regard, the two countries have agreed to cooperate in a number of areas in an effort to preserve the integrity of the regional integration movement and the implementation of the decisions of the heads of government regarding the free movement of nationals.
They have also agreed to the recognition of skills certificates and the adoption of relevant legislation to allow for the hassle-free travel of all ten categories of skilled nationals.
Dookeran said, as part of the agreement with Jamaica, his government will be implementing a sensitisation training programme for immigration officials in that country to ensure that their decisions are in line with Community law.
“We will establish a sensitisation programme for all those who are responsible for implementing immigration policies, whether it is through workshops or seminars,” he said.
“We assure that in due course we will be able to modify the behaviour of those, who are in charge of dealing with immigration matters to reflect the Community law,” he added.
Dookeran said he has also agreed to increased cooperation between the immigration departments of the two countries. This, he said, will involve the exchange of data and information on a “hands-on basis”, so that there is a reduction in speculation and misinformation.
Dookeran also assured that there is “absolutely” no profiling or targeting of Jamaicans by immigration officials in his country.
He said that 96 percent of Jamaicans seeking admittance into Trinidad and Tobago last year, were given right of entry.
“In the last year, 56,324 Jamaican nationals sought entry into Trinidad and Tobago and of those, 54,362 were given right of entry – this amounts to 96-plus percent,” the minister said.
“The issues must be discussed within a context of truth and fact. There appeared to be a perception that had developed, in light of the ruling of the immigration department recently, that there is some targeting and some profiling of Jamaican nationals,” Dookeran said.
“I want to say here categorically, based on my own investigations, that there is no truth to that. There is absolutely no profiling or targeting of Jamaicans in our immigration system,” he added.
Dookeran said what may have happened “was the natural order of the immigration process that applies to all.”
He noted that detailed figures on a month to month basis were brought to his attention and while there might have been a slight increase in the last two or three months, it does not reflect in any way that there is a position that Trinidad has taken towards Jamaicans on this matter.
The minister also reiterated that the recent immigration issues between the two countries must be discussed and solved without the development of a trade war, alluding to threats from some quarters of a boycott of Trinidad and Tobago products.
“I would like to say to the Jamaican community that reprisals of any sort will harm both countries. We are at a very difficult period in our economic development, not only here in Jamaica, but throughout the Caribbean, and I’m well aware that any disruption may bring about further positions of difficulty for us,” Dookeran stated.
“At this stage, neither of our countries can afford to have a disruption of commercial activities, and it is in that context that a spillover, of what is clearly an emotive concept, could have that kind of effect if we are not able to contain it,” he added.
Meanwhile, Nicholson noted that the issue at hand is not so much a problem of profiling of Jamaicans, but more an issue of respect.
“Respect is what this thing is all about. And whether it is at the Norman Manley (International) Airport or Piarco (International Airport), it is important that all immigration officials have respect for the dignity of every person who seeks to enter his or her country,” he emphasized.
“Whether there is profiling or not, we don’t know and that will never be strictly proven. The important thing though… is the question of training, bearing in mind that the foundation of all training and action is respect and once there is respect, there can be no allegation of profiling,” the minister added.