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Barbados again! - Another J'can woman says she was mistreated

B’Dos Opposition Leader says immigration has been a ‘hot potato’ issue

By KARYL WALKER Online news editor walkerk@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, April 11, 2011    

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YET another Jamaican woman has come forward with accusations of mistreatment by the authorities at the Grantley Adams International Airport in Bridgetown, Barbados.

Although Donna Benjamin-McLean's alleged case of abuse occurred in September 2004, she has decided to come public in solidarity with Shanique Myrie — a Jamaican woman who has bitterly complained of being strip searched, finger-raped, verbally abused and locked up before being shipped out of Barbados without a reasonable explanation.

In an interview with the Observer on Saturday, Benjamin-McLean expressed her displeasure with reported denials by Barbadian authorities that Myrie's account was lacking in veracity and that she was a victim of human trafficking.

"I want Barbados to know that it is happening. They are behaving as if it never happened, as if it is a lie. I don't believe I will ever revisit Barbados, because I fear them," Benjamin-McLean said.

Benjamin-McLean said she was plucked from the immigration line upon her arrival in the eastern Caribbean island and subjected to demeaning treatment after she was accused of smuggling drugs.

"They had my luggage on the counter all opened, they searched and found nothing. Then two women took me into a room and said I should strip. I took my clothes off, leaving my panties and they said 'take the panty off'. So I said, 'I can't because I am seeing my menstruation' and they said 'drop off the pad'â so I dropped it off," a distraught Benjamin-McLean said.

She also said that the Barbadian authorities put her through even further humiliation.

"They told me to hold my two hands out and squat, like bend down and jerk myself. I did, so they took me to the police station and questioned me," she said.

Then, she said she told the cop that she needed to urinate.

"A policewoman followed me to the bathroom and watched me as I urinated. She bent and was looking up to see what was coming out of me," she said, adding that afterwards the cops informed her that she would be taken to hospital to be flushed out.

She agreed to the procedure, she said.

Benjamin-McLean said she had travelled to Barbados to visit a family member who was outside the airport waiting to collect her. The pressure eased a bit after members of the Royal Barbados Police Force interrogated her and her sister separately and could find no disparity in their answers.

She said a policeman then told her that she would no longer be required to go to the hospital because her story was corroborated by her sister.

"My sister was all shaken up and terrified about the whole issue. She was in tears. She couldn't drive. So the policeman drove until she got back her composure and then sent us on our way," she said.

Two days later, the woman said she got a call from the same cop who apologised and told her that the next time she was visiting the island she should inform him so that he could receive her.

But that was little consolation to Benjamin-McLean who has vowed to stay clear of that country.

"This was the most disgusting, horrible and terrifying thing to happen to me. I have been to England twice and Grand Cayman once, but Barbados is the worst," she said.

Benjamin-McLean has made a formal report to Public Defender Earl Witter who has since forwarded her complaint to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.

Yesterday, Barbados' Nation newspaper reported that former Prime Minister Owen Arthur has called for "quiet diplomacy" in the handling of the Shanique Myrie incident, warning that it must not be allowed to tarnish relations between Barbados and Jamaica.

"I do not want this matter pertaining to foreign relations to appear as though I am castigating Barbadian officials, but just put it this way, that I feel the foreign ministry should understand the role of diplomacy in solving problems and that that is the first thing that you use," Arthur said.

Arthur, who is also the opposition leader, suggested that Minister of Foreign Affairs Senator Maxine McClean might have rushed to judgement on the Shanique Myrie matter when she stated publicly that Myrie's claims that she was cavity-searched at Grantley Adams International Airport last month were unfounded.

Arthur said Bridgetown has more to lose than Kingston, given its heavier dependence on regional exports, and further cautioned the Freundel Stuart administration that it cannot afford to have the matter "spiral out of control".

The Barbados Labour Party (BLP) leader acknowledged that the matter of immigration had been a hot potato even when he was in Government, but said he was careful not to support "bad treatment as an official position".

Myrie has since retained an attorney and a Jamaican delegation that visited Barbados to investigate the matter has since determined that her case needs to be properly investigated.

Yesterday, the Sunday Observer reported from the statement of another Jamaican woman who said she was raped by Barbadian policemen while she was in custody for drug smuggling.

She has already identified two Barbadian cops who she said were involved in her alleged ordeal and both were last week arrested, charged and granted bail.

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