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Jamaican foreign ministry official urges caution on bashing of Caricom

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Observer senior staff reporter dunkleya@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, October 30, 2013    

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PERMANENT Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Ambassador Paul Robotham has cautioned persons against the use of anecdotal or one-off instances to suggest that the freedom of movement provisions under the Caribbean Community (Caricom) regime has not worked for Jamaica.

"More Jamaicans travel to Caricom [states] than Caricom nationals travel to Jamaica. Two hundred and forty-six thousand Jamaicans travelled to Caricom [states] and 6,000 were denied entry (between 2006 and 2013)," the ambassador said. The number denied entry, he said, was 2.45 per cent, compared to the 97.5 per cent of people who were allowed entry.

The ambassador was responding to concerns raised by Opposition Committee member Delroy Chuck and Government member Mikael Phillips at yesterday's meeting of the Internal and External Affairs Committee of Parliament in Kingston yesterday.

Chuck wanted to know what was the recourse in the case of the average Jamaican who has been "forced to get a Caricom passport" but when he goes to a Caricom country ends up being treated as a Jamaican and not as a member of Caricom.

"Do you ever foresee that this Caricom passport will be utilised in a way that it is supposed to be utilised -- for the free movement of every citizen of Caricom? If the answer is no, do we ever see Article 45 being implemented in our lifetime because Article 45 speaks about the free movement of people but I think the smaller states will never. Is Article 45 an illusion or a mirage."

Phillips, for his part, was of the opinion that the figures presented by the ministry did not reflect the reality on the ground.

"Your report shows that there is no challenge with movement really but I would think that there is still a large number of our nationals who don't report. Are we really playing on a level playing field?" Phillips asked, noting that there is a profiling of Jamaicans when visiting

other Caricom states. "Will we ever be able to see this

free movement of persons?"

he queried.

Ambassador Robotham maintained, however, that it was very difficult to prove discrimination on the basis of nationality only. "It's a rules-based system and it has mechanisms to deal with when the rules are broken, generalisations and anecdotal evidence have their place but when it comes to the ministry we deal with it case by case," he told the committee.

"If you are saying it's not working for us, tell me whom it is not working for, bring that to me and we will deal with it but we can't work with general statements. It's (Caricom regime) is not a finished product and a done deal we have to work on it. Two hundred and forty six thousand people move, one is denied entry and it is blown up as if Caricom is not working, it's not logical," he said further.

Robotham, in an earlier submission to the committee, noted that despite allegations that Jamaicans suffer discrimination, statistics reveal that many Jamaicans have successfully taken advantage of free movement within the region. He said there are approximately 30,000 to 40,000 Jamaicans residing in Caricom member states, including the Bahamas which is not part of the Caricom Single Market and Economy. According to the data, Jamaicans are mainly residents in Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago.

As of September 2013, the Work Permit Unit of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security had issued 2,893 skills certificates. Data also indicated that the number of verifications and the number of certificates issued by other member states to Jamaicans for 2004 to 2010 amounted to 1,020.

The permanent secretary said that to date the ministry has received approximately 20 formal complaints from Jamaican nationals relating to free movement overall. "Sometimes they check out, sometimes they don't," he said.

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