Jamaica has called on Barbados to respect the rights of its citizens, in the wake of recent complaints of ill-treatment levelled against immigration authorities in Bridgetown.
During a town hall meeting at the Barbados Community College on Tuesday night, the Jamaican High Commissioner to Trinidad David Prendergast, who also has responsibility for Barbados, made specific reference to the Marsha Lee Cooke saga as he zeroed in on challenges facing nationals of his country in gaining entry to Barbados.
Cooke, a 30-year-old Jamaican national, was recently found not guilty of assaulting and resisting three police officers on arrival at Grantley Adams International Airport on June 28. The woman, who was eventually released from lawful custody at the end of what she described as a two-month nightmare in which she claims she was strip-searched twice, accused of bringing drugs into Barbados, beaten, arrested and remanded for 16 days at Dodds Prisons.
Prendergast, who said he had been closely monitoring that situation, said it was “fortuitous” for Cooke that the island had recently reactivated its diplomatic representation in Bridgetown with the appointment of Ella Hoyos as its Honorary Consul.
He went on to credit Hoyos’ efforts, for not only ensuring that Cooke received visits while she was in prison, but also for the necessary legal counsel that led to her acquittal.
However, he said there were other cases in which other Jamaicans were not so lucky.
“A lot of people don’t know their rights. It’s a challenge we’ve had,” said Prendergast, who said he had earlier on Tuesday presented his credentials to Prime Minister Freundel Stuart.
However, the Jamaican envoy contended that “under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, you are entitled to a call. Some immigration officers don’t seem to realize that, but it’s there, and all of our countries have signed on to the Vienna Convention.”
“We can’t solve some of the cases, but we have to ensure that your rights and your welfare are taken into account, and to remind people that we have rights too,” Prendergast said in his first public statement on the matter.
The Jamaican diplomat made mention of the Shanique Myrie case which winded up before the Caribbean Court of Justice after “[Myrie] was brave enough to speak out”. He also acknowledged that “the cases in Barbados have been high-profile cases” but said if regional immigration figures on entry were tracked, they would show that Barbados does not have more issues with Jamaicans than other Caribbean states. In fact, he acknowledged that “we have countries where we have more people in prison than Barbados”.
Nonetheless, he also zeroed in on reports from detainees in Barbados who reported being detained until until two in the morning without being allowed a call.
However, he told those gathered: “You are entitled to a call [to] . . . at least to your representative, your family member, or someone, because if you are in distress, people don’t know.”
The envoy also referred to another recent case of a Jamaican man departing Trinidad where he was in transit on a flight to Barbados, but who seemingly disappeared.
“Family outside waiting for him in Barbados. Hours and hours passed and they have no idea where he was.”
Eventually, Prendergast said, the man’s family contacted Hoyos, who relayed the information to the High Commission, which contacted the Barbados Immigration Department.
“They told us that this man was held because he was disruptive on a flight . . . and then he was taken to the lock-ups.
“If we hadn’t had the connection, we would not have known, his family would not have had any idea. We had to track down the immigration people to find out what had happened.”
The Jamaican envoy said that all charges against the man were dismissed when he was finally brought before the court. “The issue of rights is very important. It is a challenge to remind immigration that these people have rights,” the High Commissioner said.