Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Curacao concerns increase - Public defender begs for help for Jamaicans stranded in Dutch Caribbean island

Published:Sunday | June 25, 2017 | 6:00 AMCorey Robinson
Harrison Henry

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade remained mum last week, even after the public defender requested that an investigation be launched into reports of Jamaicans being left stranded in Curacao as Dutch Caribbean airline InselAir continues its suspension of flights to Kingston.

Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry, who was accosted by Jamaicans in Curacao during a conference last week, described the situation as serious, adding that she has passed the matter on to the foreign affairs ministry.

"I don't have extraterritorial jurisdiction so it really wouldn't be a matter for the public defender," Harrison Henry told The Sunday Gleaner late last week.

"At the same time, I was in Curacao and there are Jamaicans in Curacao who have serious concerns as to how they are going to get back home.

"The immediate problem is between the citizens and the airline. We have reported what we have found in Curacao to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, which is doing an investigation. I have done what any responsible public defender should do," added Harrison Henry.

According to the public defender, she has also asked officials in Curacao to conduct an official report regarding the number of Jamaicans left in the country.

Three weeks ago our news team highlighted the complaints of Jamaicans who reported that they were left stranded in Curacao since March when InselAir in March grounded flights to several countries, pointing to resource constraints.

InselAir is the sole airline that flies directly between Curacao and Kingston.

The airline had said it would resume flights at the end of June, but with no indication of such resumption, a growing number of Jamaicans - especially visitors who would have purchased return tickets - are left without an economical means home.

Their only option is to fly through Miami or other countries, which is reportedly far more expensive, and in some cases require visas for in transit passengers.

Up to late last week, the foreign affairs ministry refused to comment on the matter, even after confirming knowledge of the concerns of the Jamaicans.

While the position of the ministry has left the Jamaicans miffed, they say the meeting with the public defender has given them some hope and may have thwarted a planned protest.

"We have been told by the public defender to put that manifestation on hold to let government to government attend to the situation. So at the moment I am following up with the public defender," said Wayne Reid, one of the Jamaicans living in Curacao.

"Right now, you have people who are holders of valid tickets back to Jamaica and the moment they go to the airport they get to understand that their flight back has been cancelled. Those people are still on the island and they have now become illegal here," added Reid.

corey.robinson@gleanerjm.com