T&T promises better accommodation for Jamaicans at Piarco Airport

(Jamaica Observer) Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) is to retrofit an area of its Piarco International Airport by July, to improve accommodation for Jamaicans refused entry into the two-island republic.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, made the announcement at Gordon House on Wednesday as the Standing Finance Committee (SFC) of the House of Representatives completed its review of the 2016/17 Estimates of Expenditure.

Senator Johnson Smith told Jamaica’s 63 elected Members of Parliament (MPs), who jointly make up the SFC, that she has been informed of the decision in correspondence received from T&T’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Senator David Moses. This follows bilateral discussions during the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) meeting just over a week ago.

Johnson Smith said that the issue of the treatment of Jamaicans who are denied entry at the Piarco Airport was a fairly complex one, but that the new development was an indication of the progress being made in their discussions.

Kamina Johnson Smith
Kamina Johnson Smith

She also noted the contribution of Jamaica’s Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Karl Samuda in bilateral discussions with Trinidad and Tobago’s Trade and Industry Minister Senator Paula Gopee-Scoon, at the recent 42nd Regular Meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) and the 61st Special COTED Meeting of Trade and Energy Ministers in Georgetown, Guyana.

She said that, in respect of the discussions regarding the free movement of people, it has already been agreed to refer the matter to the Heads of Caricom (Caribbean Community) meeting in July.

However, she said that discussions have continued at the level of the high commissioners, as well as at the ministerial level, in the meantime.

“I am actually pleased to advise — as you know I not only had several discussions with my counterpart in Trinidad, Senator David Moses, but I was able to meet with him in the margins of the UNGASS Meeting in New York, based on which he sent a response in writing to the letter that I had sent before I left the island. He has now committed to retrofitting an appropriate area within the Piarco Airport by July of this year, to ensure they are able to more effectively treat with Jamaicans, and all nationals as a matter of fact, who use the Piarco Airport and who are denied entry,” she stated.

“It was always that there was no facility, so they simply used the departure lounge — which is inappropriate for an overnight stay. There were no bathroom facilities, etcetera. So, it was not a dignified setting. There will now be a designated area retrofitted to provide dignified and private accommodation for persons required to stay overnight, who are going to be returned,” she added.

Senator Johnson Smith said, on the issue of the treatment of Jamaican nationals in Trinidad, Senator Moses has also committed that in June of this year his Government will commence customer service training for immigration officials, as well as people such as security officials who must interact with visitors who are denied entry.

Opposition spokesman on foreign affairs and foreign trade, Dr Morais Guy, noted that there have been repeated calls for the ‘re-culturalisation’ of the two-island republic’s immigration officers in terms of how they treat nationals of other Caricom countries.

He said that Jamaica was second only to Guyana in terms of bad treatment and denial of entry at Piarco, “and there is a view that Trinidad had to train their immigration officers to improve their treatment of persons from other Caricom countries”.

Relations between Jamaica and T&T have been strained for several years now, due to increasing complaints from Jamaicans that they have been denied entry to Port-of-Spain, despite having met all qualifications required under the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. The treaty stipulates that no Caricom national should be turned away from another Caricom state unless the traveller is considered undesirable or posing a burden on the receiving state.

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