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Fishermen deported in 2018

Ministry says no report of bad treatment by US Coast Guard received

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, June 15, 2019

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AT least four of the five fishermen who had been detained by the United States Coast Guard between 2017 and 2018, after being held in Haitian waters, were deported to Jamaica in 2018.

This was disclosed by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, in responding to questions from Opposition senators K D Knight and Lambert Brown in the Senate, yesterday.

Johnson Smith said that her ministry had confirmed records that the men were deported from the US in 2018. However, she said that while it was a matter of record, which her ministry had obtained after enquiring about the status of the men, there was no record of any complaint made by them to the local authorities since their return last year.

She said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is making enquiries of other relevant agencies and departments as there is a case before the court in the United States through which they are seeking justice.

“We of the Government side are making enquiries because we do not know enough,” she told the Senate.

However, she said that she had decided to make a statement to the Parliament to ensure that the people of Jamaica know that the Government is looking into the matter.

In an effort to ascertain what had happened to the men between September 2017 and last year when they were deported the Jamaica Observer learnt that the US Coast Guard, which picked them up, was operating under the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act that allows them to “stop, search and seize” contraband or illicit drugs on the high seas.

The Coast Guard has admitted that while they saw the men throwing things overboard from their vessel when they approached, no illicit drugs were found when they searched the vessel. However, the men were taken to Florida where they were detained for 32 days by the Coast Guard.

The Observer understands that were detained for a long period by immigration authorities before being deported to Jamaica. However, no complaints were made to the local authorities on their return.

“We have also seen a video in which the fishermen concerned cited experiences of shocking treatment during an extended period of detention that would amount to human rights abuse. The allegations are of serious concern to the ministry as the rights of Jamaicans at home and abroad are always of paramount importance to the Government of Jamaica,” the minister said in her statement to the Senate yesterday.

“We note that the American Civil Liberties Union has agreed to provide the men with legal representation, and that the matter is now before a court of law in the United States. It is hoped that justice will delivered through that process

“We are investigating the situation with our Consulate in Miami and other relevant Government agencies as we seek to learn more about the case. But, to date have not discovered any record of a complaint having been reported to the consulate or the headquarters in Kingston,” she said.

Johnson Smith used the opportunity to remind fisherfolk that when incidents such as these occur “their reports about maltreatment should be taken to the nearest consulate or high commission, or on their return brought to the attention of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade. This is whether there is a deportation at hand, or not.”


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