Why are Caribbean people so afraid of ourselves?
WE share the concerns articulated by former Jamaican Prime Minister P J Patterson about the restriction of free movement of Caribbean Community (Caricom) nationals among member states.
Mr Patterson’s concerns are particularly relevant given that Caricom heads of Government have committed to measures to ease travel difficulties at ports.
“What purpose does the Caricom passport serve if travelling within the region is still like an obstacle race?” Mr Patterson is reported as saying in an address to the Rotary Club of Georgetown, in Guyana, earlier this week.
To emphasise his point, Mr Patterson correctly pointed to the fact that during the Cricket World Cup in 2007 foreigners were able to move around the region freely.
Caricom member states ignore at their peril Mr Patterson’s warning that the regional integration movement is in danger. We therefore endorse his appeal for Caribbean governments to begin using their collective strengths to tackle this and other challenging issues.
Maybe this issue of border control harassment is a matter of the policy of free movement not being properly communicated to those who police those borders.
If that is the case, it is the duty of individual governments to correct it. For it is abundantly clear that we cannot continue to speak of regional unity if we keep regarding each other as foreigners.
We place great hope of a reversal of this attitude in the fact that Caricom Secretary General Irwin LaRocque is adamant that what exists now needs to change.
Mr LaRocque himself issued his warning to regional governments when, in a discussion with Jamaican journalists last year, he said: “If we don’t address this issue we’re going to have a problem, and it’s not just how you treat people when they go across the border, or the fact that you have the hassle makes you feel like a non-belonger; it’s a reality and we have to address this issue. It’s a political issue… It’s one of attitude, it’s almost a phobia. I don’t know why we’re afraid of ourselves.”
No Caricom national who travels throughout the Caribbean can contest Mr LaRocque’s assertion that immigration laws in the region inhibit rather than encourage movement.
We have no doubt that, as Mr LaRocque said, it is going to take a lot to change the mindset of immigration officers throughout the region, as people entrusted with enormous power, and who are themselves xenophobic, are not easily swayed.
However, border control agents need to realise that they can do their jobs effectively without offending law-abiding citizens and subjecting them to abuse.
Again, we acknowledge that realising this change in attitudes won’t be easy. However, we believe that the heads of government have the capacity, and the will, to see it done. After all, Caricom — despite its lethargy on some issues — has demonstrated that it can get things done.
We have no doubt that the region’s leaders share the view that Caricom’s survival is dependent on the hassle-free movement of people.