UNACCEPTABLE!

UNACCEPTABLE!

Attorney urges Government to work with UK officials to bring home Jamaicans stuck on cruise ship now docked in England

BY KIMONE FRANCIS
Senior staff reporter
francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, April 20, 2020

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SEVERAL Jamaicans aboard Marella Discovery 2 , which has now docked in Southampton, England, have retained the service of attorney-at-law Jennifer Housen as they fight for justice.

In an interview with the Jamaica Observer yesterday, Housen, a former People's National Party caretaker, disclosed that the family of the crew members who did not make it into the country, despite being in Jamaican waters on April 2, reached out to her for assistance.

Housen said that she has since written to Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson Smith requesting that the Jamaican Government communicates with its United Kingdom counterpart to accommodate the Jamaicans who have not been allowed to disembark the vessel.

According to Housen, on March 17, the Jamaican Government accommodated the 1,662 passengers from Marella Discovery 2, who were predominantly British and Canadian, allowing them to disembark in Jamaica for flights to their home countries, citing humanitarian grounds. At that time, Jamaica had already confirmed its first COVID-19 case.

She said, unfortunately, the same was not done for the more than 40 Jamaicans who were denied a request to disembark from the cruise ship weeks later when the vessel re-entered Jamaican waters.

The Observer earlier this month reported that the ship arrived in Jamaican waters for refuelling on April 2, at which time the captain made a request to the Government for the Jamaicans to disembark amid travel restrictions related to COVID-19. But with no response forthcoming the Jamaicans were told that the vessel had no option but to move on.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness had, on March 20, announced that effective March 21 the country's air and sea ports would be closed to incoming passengers for 14 days. The decision was revisited and an extension was granted for landing until March 24. On April 4, the prime minister announced an extension of said travel restrictions for a further 14 days. The restrictions are scheduled to end this week.

“They are currently in the UK. Since they got to the UK various nationalities have been allowed to disembark and been repatriated to their home countries. So persons from Indonesia, Mexico, and Chile have all been allowed to disembark and they have since gone to their home countries. The Jamaicans have heard nothing. So we have seen the prime minister saying that they are doing controlled entry and planning. Nothing has been communicated to the Jamaicans on the ship or to the captain of the ship,” Housen stated.

“Now let's get this clear, we keep speaking of the 43, but we need to realise that these are Jamaicans like you and I. They are not just some numerical figure sitting out there. These are people with families. They are representing Jamaica on these cruise ships, and the fact of the matter is they ought to be treated as such,” she argued.

The attorney told the Observer that while her clients, who wish not to be named, have a legal case against the Government, their primary concern at the moment is to get home. She added also that, as their representative, she is now advocating for that.

“So it is not a question of, 'Oh, we're going to sue the Government.' Whether or not that occurs is neither here nor there. Do they have a cause of action if you're to ask me as a lawyer? Absolutely, but is that their primary concern now? No, it is not. Their primary concern is their safety of passage back to their home of citizenship. Their families are worried, they're concerned; they are distressed, and they need to get back home. It is literally sitting in a sea of uncertainty,” Housen stressed.

Yesterday, the Observer spoke to Marie Campbell, the mother of one of the Jamaican crew members, who claimed that her daughter, and her colleagues aboard the ship are mentally drained.

Campbell said, while there have been no reports of COVID-19 cases aboard the cruise ship, her daughter and others have been restricted to their rooms. She said, too, that communication between her and her daughter has been very limited.

“She frighten right now. She seh them isolate them so she in a room by herself. More time when she call she seh she feel so lonely, and she want to come home. She just there not knowing what happening around her, and it's the same thing wid her co-workers. Dem lock up too,” Campbell explained.

She said, with one daughter stuck aboard the vessel and another unable to return from the United States, the family is uncertain of how to proceed with the money it now has drying up.

Campbell, who has been diagnosed with cardiomegaly and is also battling kidney disease, is currently caring for four grandchildren and her 78-year-old mother. Her daughters often send money to help with her expenses.

“She take care of me. I have her daughter, so she help pay my bills, pay my mortgage, and every likkle thing. It hurt mi a lot that she cannot come home, but I cannot do anything. I just have to wait and see what the Government doing. She paid the mortgage for last month, but this month I don't know what's going to happen, because she have fi her own to pay to. It just really hurt.

“Her [six-year-old] daughter talk about her a lot. More time she saying she don't want anything to happen to her mother so she would like her mother to come home. She out there lonely, lock up in her room. More time she a wonder and a fret. She worry 'bout me because I have to go out with my condition to get food and so for everybody else. I don't have anybody else to do it. She a hear the news of what's happening out here so she's scared,” said Campbell, who lives in Trench Town, St Andrew.

Housen, in the meantime, is urging the Government to move swiftly to get the Jamaicans home.

She said with the UK requiring transit visas the Jamaican Government will need to lobby the British Government to waive any requirement in order to get its citizens home.

“We keep referring to the US and the UK and Canada as our partners, and at some point the part in partners need to engage. And at this juncture, what I'm saying and asking the minister to do is to use whatever leverage we can as partners with these countries to get them to waive any kind of visa requirement or restrictions in order to get them from the port to a plane to their home,” she said.

According to Housen, it is not unreasonable to ask the UK Government to extend similar courtesies to the Jamaicans as was extended by the Jamaican Government to its citizens on March 17.

“As their attorney, I am advocating on their behalf. I'm not coming in heavy-handed here. I'm simply saying that this is a constitutional right, and this is not displaced by any other means of displacement that may be set out elsewhere within the constitution. I'm not drawing for that. I'm simply saying let us work together in a way that will allow these persons, who have these rights, who are Jamaicans and have the right to enter their country, to be so allowed,” she added.

Asked about the implications for admitting the crewmen aboard Marella Discovery 2 into the country while other Jamaicans are unable to return home, Housen said that the situation is unique.

“We didn't have those persons sitting within a mile of home and then denied by their own Government. So, whilst I understand that there are persons who may want to come home, it is my view that the Jamaican Government, at this juncture, had a legal duty to those persons who were sitting offshore their own country to have let them in. To have let them depart and be where they are now it is on them. They need to fix it,” argued Housen.


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