By Marcia Braveboy
Caribbean News Now Senior Correspondent
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — Thirteen Jamaicans were denied entry into Trinidad and Tobago by immigration officers on Tuesday at the Piarco International Airport.
The detainees relayed stories of a grueling experience to the Jamaica Observer. They said their passports were confiscated and they were made to sit on a wooden bench overnight, and then put on a Caribbean Airlines flight with Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz football team, who were flying home after a friendly match at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Trinidad.
Caribbean News Now was told by an official at the immigration office in Port of Spain that they are looking into the matter. Chief immigration officer Keith Sampson was in a meeting and was unable to talk to us on Thursday. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar had not responded to an email inquiry.
Certainly, the Jamaicans of all people would not have thought this treatment possible just six weeks after the landmark judgement by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which found in favour of Jamaican Shanique Myrie against Barbados for similar treatment.
In its October 4 ruling, the CCJ made a distinction between domestic law and Caribbean Community (CARICOM) law. This means that the decision of the Conference of the Heads of Government of CARICOM on the right of entry of CARICOM nationals to member states for six months is legally binding on member states without the requirement that it be enacted into their domestic law.
Also coming out of the CCJ ruling, it was stated that a CARICOM national who is denied entry into a member state should be given the opportunity to consult either with family an attorney or consular official.
The Jamaicans said they were not afforded those rights and were not even allowed to use their cellular phones to contact anyone before being shuffled out of the Piarco Airport.
After Myrie encountered degrading and humiliating treatment at the hands of immigration officers at Grantley Adams airport in Barbados in March 2011, she took the Barbados government to court and won. Many regional observers said a precedent was set, with some concluding that justice was done and anyone facing similar treatment can look forward to their matter being dealt with fairly.
“Most importantly, it gives assurances to ordinary CARICOM citizens that they can have meaningful recourse to a court set up by and for CARICOM nations, when their rights under the Revised Treaty are breached by arbitrary and insulting actions by functionaries of member states,” Professor Norman Girvan wrote following the CCJ ruling.
The Trinidad-based University of the West Indies academic also noted that the ruling was “controversial” and would be welcomed in some quarters while “denounced” by others. Girvan believes the CCJ ruling would serve as the basis for a further strengthening of the Caribbean Community.
“In several important respects therefore, I read the decision by the CCJ as an important step in strengthening the legal basis for the operation of the Caribbean Community. It gives teeth to the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and meaning to the decisions of CARICOM organs; and hence can be the basis of addressing the ‘implementation deficit.’” Girvan said.