CASTRIES, St. Lucia: Prime Minister Stephenson King says he wants his fellow Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders to take urgent action to facilitate the free movement of people throughout the region.
King said problems related to travel through the region by Caribbean nationals continue to pose a major challenge to the dream of “One Caribbean”.
He also said while the region pays lip service to the “One Caribbean” ideal, the reality is that individual countries may be focused on protecting job opportunities at home for their nationals.
“We have received complaints, and throughout the region there have always been complaints from St. Lucians who travel to other countries, whether it is to Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados or Antigua, there are situations where St. Lucians complain, either of harassment or being denied entry and sent back home,” King said.
King is not the first CARICOM leader to raise such concerns. Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been among the most vocal concerning recent immigration developments within the regional grouping.
Gonsalves has criticized Barbadian authorities for the treatment some of his nationals have received in Bridgetown recently. He says that, across the region, citizens of his country, Guyana and Jamaica have all been targeted unfairly.
King agreed with Gonsalves that such actions are not in accordance with CARICOM’s regional integration process.
“This is not the kind of environment we want to establish within a Caribbean Community,” King said. “We have to continue pursuing the ideals of ‘One Caribbean’ and get over those hurdles. The Prime Minister of St. Vincent does have a basis for making those statements.”
King said Caribbean leaders must act on the concerns about impediments to travel in the region and put measures in place to arrest the problem.
“We have a common purpose, which is building a Caribbean nation. And we can’t, at this stage, begin to place doors at our ports of entry and begin to profile our nationals by saying ‘You are Guyanese, I am not going to allow you to come in,'” said King, whose government recently ended an amnesty offered to immigrants living in St. Lucia illegally to regularize their status.
The issue of the treatment of CARICOM nationals in other member states is expected to be raised at the July 2-5 summit of regional leaders in Guyana.
Guyana President Bharrat Jagdeo has also expressed concern about the treatment of his nationals in Barbados as the result of a new immigration policy which gives CARICOM nationals, who meet the required stipulations, until the end of November to get their immigration status regularized or face removal from the country.
In recent weeks, many Guyanese have complained that they are being rounded up – sometimes in the middle of the night – in immigration raids and being deported back to Georgetown.