The firestorm of criticisms in both Jamaica and Barbados over allegations of finger-raping of a Jamaican woman at the Grantley Adams Airport in Bridgetown is clear indication that all is not well with Caricom.
Decent people would naturally be sickened by the thought that such an incident could take place in a region which has sworn to pursue economic, if not political integration, of which a major plank is freedom of movement.
Ms Shanique Myrie, the Jamaican woman involved, alleged that on March 14, 2011, she tried to enter Barbados to stay with a woman friend. At the airport, she was ushered to a room where a female immigration officer poked around in her vaginal cavity with gloved fingers, apparently in search of contraband.
Ms Myrie’s story is that while the shameful act was taking place, the immigration officer spewed venomous anti-Jamaican words at her. She was then held overnight and deported the next day.
For their part, the Barbadian minister responsible for immigration, Senator Harry Husbands, countered that Ms Myrie was a victim of human trafficking and was, like everyone else so suspected, sent back home.
On the face of it, one cannot help but wonder why someone suspected of being a victim of human trafficking needs to be cavity searched. And in the event such a search is necessary, why not employ the use of x-ray machines in these modern times?
We, however, are in no position to say who is telling the truth. And we are happy to see that our own Public Defender, Mr Earl Witter, has been asked by National Security Minister Dwight Nelson to investigate the matter. Mr Witter has already made contact with his counterpart in Barbados and is awaiting his own probe there.
But while we await their findings, we feel compelled to comment on the many claims from Jamaicans, some of them living in Barbados and some who have visited that sister Caribbean island, of the poor treatment allegedly meted out to them upon arrival at the airport.
The former Jamaican honorary consul in Bridgetown and the Jamaican Foreign Ministry in Kingston have confirmed receiving numerous such complaints. Why then, we must ask, has so little, if anything, been done to find a solution?
Jamaica need not be insecure about raising a matter of such grave nature with Barbados, because our commitment to regional integration cannot be credibly questioned. Jamaica was among the first to implement the Caricom Skills Certificate that allows nationals of other countries who qualify to live and work here.
Jamaica is arguably farthest ahead in implementing the Caricom agreement to achieve free movement of labour through measures such as removing all obstacles to intra-regional movement of skills, labour and travel, harmonising social services (education, health, etc), providing for the transfer of social security benefits and establishing common standards and measures for accreditation and equivalency.
The Myrie incident is, in a way, a grave indictment on our Caricom leaders who have obviously left a simmering anger among Caribbean nationals to fester. It is clear from the comments both here and in Barbados that the complaints of poor treatment are not restricted to Jamaicans, but extend to others, especially Guyanese and Vincentians.
We will be keenly awaiting the completion of the investigations, in the hope that it will lead to meaningful dialogue between and among the countries of Caricom on how to fix this problem once and for all.