The landmark Shanique Myrie case

Friday, April 20, 2018

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We continue or reflection on some of the stories covered by the Jamaica Observer over its 25 years of existence.

Shanique Myrie's story, published on Thursday, March 24, 2011, went viral when the Jamaica Observer exposed the treatment she received on arrival in Barbados 10 days earlier.

The story, which turned the spotlight on the poor treatment of Jamaicans visiting that eastern Caribbean island, elicited public outrage in Jamaica and resulted in a landmark trial at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) that ended in Myrie's favour.

Myrie came to the Observer on Wednesday, March 23 to report her ordeal of being finger-raped by an immigration officer before being thrown out of Barbados.

She complained bitterly that when she attempted to enter Barbados on March 14, 2011, she was subjected to two demeaning cavity searches by a female immigration officer who continuously spewed venom about Jamaicans. It was her first trip out of Jamaica.

Myrie's story was corroborated by former Jamaican honorary consul to Barbados, Marlon Gordon.

Gordon, an attorney, said even though some Jamaicans do enter Barbados and get involved in nefarious activities, that was no excuse for wholesale discrimination against Jamaica nationals.

“This arbitrary kind of behaviour that is being exhibited by the Government in Barbados has to be looked at. You can't penalise an entire nation,” Gordon said.

Jamaican Jaydene Thomas, a former journalist and now a practising attorney in Barbados, said the Jamaican foreign ministry had for too long ignored the cries of Jamaicans who suffered at the hands of Barbadians when they visited that island.

“Every time that a flight arrives from Jamaica, the nothing-to-declare line is automatically closed,” she said. “We are treated like criminals by the authorities.”

Myrie, in relating her story to the Observer said: “The lady took me into a bathroom and told me to take off my clothes. I did as requested. After searching me and my clothes she found no contraband or narcotics. She then asked me to bend over, open my legs and spread (my private parts). She said that if I did not comply, then she would see that I end up in prison in Barbados.

“When I bent over and spread my (private parts) I felt something enter my (private parts) and when I looked between my legs I saw her gloved hand in my (private parts). I screamed and stood up. She then told me if I obstructed her doing a cavity search she would have me locked up. I bent over again and spread. She again inserted her fingers and poked around. I felt like I was being raped. I was so hurt and ashamed. I felt dirty and defiled,” she said.

“I asked her who she was and she said 'I am your worst nightmare'. She then said 'All you (expletive) Jamaicans come here to do is either steal people's man or bring drugs here,” Myrie recounted.

Myrie said the immigration officer removed her identification tag before humiliating her and that she complied because she was alone with the woman and feared what she would do to her.

She was interrogated and her luggage searched by at least four other immigration officials at intervals and was further cursed by the woman who searched her.

“She said I hate these (expletive) Jamaicans,” Myrie said.

Even though she was originally given clearance to enter the country, she said a male officer took her passport and returned with the entry permit cancelled and left her in a waiting area for more than two hours before carting her off to a small room and informing her that she would be spending the night in the cramped setting.

“It was only a board cot with a small, raw sponge, there was no pillow or bed linen. The room had no windows,” she said.

When she entered the room, Myrie said, another traumatised woman was already in confinement.

“The cot was definitely too small for both of us to lay on at the same time so we took turns laying and sitting while we recounted our ordeal. We did this through the night,” Myrie told the Observer.

She said in the morning the door was flung open and three women informed them that their flight was about to leave at any minute and they would have no time to shower so they were only able to wash their faces and brush their teeth before they were carted off to the plane and sent back to Jamaica.

“I did not resist any orders, nor did I refuse to answer any questions. No drugs or contraband was ever found on me or my luggage. Therefore, I must ask if the treatment meted out to me was based solely on the fact that I am a Jamaican,” Myrie said.

When the Observer contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, it said that it had received a letter of complaint from Myrie and other Jamaicans and promised that the matter would be dealt with on a government to government level.

“We have received a number of complaints on a regular basis and those matters will be investigated. The matter has been brought up at the Caricom (Caribbean Community) level and we are aware of the situation,” Ann Margaret Lim, the ministry's head of communications at the time, told the Observer.

However, the ministry was not able to provide actual figures of the number of Jamaicans treated unfairly in Barbados.

The following day, Barbadian senator Harry Husbands claimed there was no record of Myrie being searched by either immigration or customs officers and alleged that the Jamaican was a victim of human trafficking.

“Shanique Myrie, on arrival in Barbados, claimed she would have been staying with a female resident, but a closer investigation however revealed she was actually staying with a Barbadian man who actually facilitates the entry of non-nationals into the island,” Husbands was quoted in the online edition of Nation News.

But Husbands' statements drew an angry response from Myrie, who threatened to sue the Barbadian Government for the treatment meted out to her.

“I am not lying. They humiliated me and searched me like I was an animal. They can carry me back to the Barbados airport and I can show you every room they took me into. I can identify the woman who defiled me. They are the ones who are lying,” she told the Observer.

The case resulted in discussions between Kingston and Bridgetown about the free movement of Caribbean people within the region.

Myrie eventually filed suit against the Barbados covernment and on Friday, October 4, 2013 the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) handed down its reserved judgement in the case.

In all the circumstances, the Court made a declaration that Barbados had breached Myrie's right to enter Barbados and ordered Barbados to compensate her in pecuniary damages in the sum of $2,240 and non-pecuniary damages to the tune of BB$75,000. The court also ordered Barbados to pay Myrie's reasonable costs. The court refused all other declarations and orders sought by her and Jamaica.

After a frustrating eight-month wait, Myrie was finally paid by the Barbadian Government in June 2014. However, the money was short of B$1,000, Myrie told the Observer.

“It was a long wait but finally it is over,” Myrie said.

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