JAMAICA'S top diplomat in the United States, Ambassador Stephen Vasciannie, has pointed out that his island's refugee policy incorporates reference to international human rights standards and provides a good framework for the treatment of asylum seekers.
"It also provides a model that could be used in some other Caricom states," Ambassador Vasciannie said in his presentation to an international refugee law course staged by the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the Organisation of American States (OAS) in Washington, DC recently.
Noting that Jamaica's refugee policy was formulated in 2009, Ambassador Vasciannie said that the Jamaican approach is based expressly on the 1951 Refugees Convention and the 1967 Protocol to the Refugees Convention.
"The policy deals with three main issues: First, who is a refugee? Second, what procedures should an asylum seeker follow in seeking refugee status; and third, what rights do refugees have in Jamaica?" he told his audience of diplomats and other representatives to the OAS, and OAS staff and interns.
Ambassador Vasciannie pointed out that Jamaica's refugee issues have taken place in the context of regional geopolitics and domestic political issues in neighbouring countries, and against the background of resource considerations.
"But in the end, the policy affirms the centrality of law," he said.
Jamaica became a party to the Refugees Convention in 1964 and to the Protocol to that Convention in 1980. The Convention and Protocol require Jamaica to grant refugee status to all foreigners who establish that they have a "well-founded fear of persecution" on any one of a number of grounds, including religious belief, political opinion or membership of a particular social group.
In the course of his review, Vasciannie described the structures in place for Jamaica to meet its international commitments under the Convention and Protocol. He pointed out that the Refugee Policy provides for an Eligibility Committee and a Review Body, and recounted that at different times, Jamaica had received refugee applications from Haitians, Cubans and persons of other nationalities.
Vasciannie also stressed that Jamaica and other Caribbean countries see themselves as within the mainstream of International Human Rights law, and valued the opportunity to insert Caribbean perspectives in deliberations at the OAS.
The OAS Course on International Refugee Law, an all-day seminar, took place under the chairmanship of Ambassador Andres Gonzalez of Colombia. Other presentations were made by representatives of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.