Letters to the Editor

The spirit of Caricom is not dead!

Tuesday, December 03, 2013    

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Dear Editor,

I am a global missionary who principally serves in the Caribbean, having taken several teams with me from Jamaica and the USA to various islands. There are very few islands that I have not gone to yet and the treatment, for the most part, meted out to these dozens of persons by immigration officers in the islands has been mostly good.

I can only recall five incidents that caused concern: two were in Barbados and three were in Grenada, and all were resolved amicably upon my intervention.

In Barbados, I had a student from the Jamaica Theological Seminary, where I formerly served as a professor, come to Barbados on his way to Grenada and was kept in interrogation for over an hour. My host pastors and I waited and waited outside for him, and when we did not see him come out of the airport we had to ask an immigration officer who we should call, as I knew he was on the flight and was off the plane, since he had sent me a text message telling me this. The immigration officer gave us a number to call, and when I called a supervisor confirmed that my student was in their office, but wanted to know who I was. I told her I was a pastor and that the person I was waiting for was on his way to Grenada. It was then that they decided to let him leave. Interestingly, the two pastors from Barbados who were with me asked me if my student had ever travelled before. I told them "no" to which they replied, "they (immigration) are going to give him trouble because once he is young and has a new passport, they will give him trouble."

In Barbados, I had a student from the Jamaica Theological Seminary, where I formerly served as a professor, come to Barbados on his way to Grenada and was kept in interrogation for over an hour. My host pastors and I waited and waited outside for him, and when we did not see him come out of the airport we had to ask an immigration officer who we should call, as I knew he was on the flight and was off the plane, since he had sent me a text message telling me this. The immigration officer gave us a number to call, and when I called a supervisor confirmed that my student was in their office, but wanted to know who I was. I told her I was a pastor and that the person I was waiting for was on his way to Grenada. It was then that they decided to let him leave. Interestingly, the two pastors from Barbados who were with me asked me if my student had ever travelled before. I told them "no" to which they replied, "they (immigration) are going to give him trouble because once he is young and has a new passport, they will give him trouble."

I cannot verify this belief, but it seems that this is a common practice in Barbados, that if someone is young and travelling by themselves on a new or hardly used passport from Jamaica or Guyana, they must be coming to Barbados for mischief. That is the impression I got from that conversation. It was an eye opener.

Similarly, in Grenada, I had to go into immigration to "rescue" two young men from my ministry in Jamaica who had come to visit me in Grenada on separate occasions. Immigration wanted to know why they were coming to Grenada. I calmly explained who I was and the ministry I do in the islands and they were let in. Another from St Vincent had problems getting into Grenada to help with our sports ministry because immigration said he needed a work permit to voulnteer. However, immigration was kind enough to let him.

However, the incidents above and others show that the treatment of Caricom nationals is not on a level playing field. Is it possible that there is some amount of "profiling" that goes on in immigration offices and booths at ports of entry in the region and elsewhere? Are young black males singled out for greater suspicion as potential trouble makers with young black females following closely behind? And why is it that none of my mostly white North American team members that have come to the Caribbean to serve have ever been treated in these ways?

I love the Caribbean and that is why I serve there. And, I cannot say that the incidents described above were discriminatory in nature or that they violate the spirit of Caricom. The spirit of Caricom is not dead! Let us not paint all Caribbean countries with the same brush, and let us not overreact to these instances without knowing all the details and information involved. The government should look into it.

I love the Caribbean and that is why I serve there. And, I cannot say that the incidents described above were discriminatory in nature or that they violate the spirit of Caricom. The spirit of Caricom is not dead! Let us not paint all Caribbean countries with the same brush, and let us not overreact to these instances without knowing all the details and information involved. The government should look into it.

I remain firm in my commitment to Caribbean integration and to serving the people of my region regardless of the negative treatment experienced by some of my fellow Jamaicans and others. For I have come to see that the Caribbean, as elsewhere in the world, is comprised of good people and bad people. And some of the decisions made by people in authority do not represent the feelings and behaviour of the other citizens in that country. Let us keep that in mind when we make our statements and assessments of Caricom.

Rev Courtney Richards

International Director, RENEWED Ministries

The Missionary Church Association in Jamaica

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