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LETTER OF THE DAY - Dr Ford has a point

Published:Thursday | January 21, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The Editor, Sir:

On his return from visiting Haiti, Dr Jephthah Ford alerted us of the possibility of an influx of Haitians into Jamaica as a consequence of the earthquake which had struck that country last week Tuesday.

Emotionally, some of us have thrown the book of compassion at Dr Ford. The Government, on the other hand, has apparently thrown the door wide open to the Haitians.

The Haitian situation is not simply a matter for Jamaica nor the CARICOM bloc. It has assumed international dimensions to which that community has been responding admirably. However, the prospect of Jamaica having to contend with a possible influx of Haitians should not be contemplated with emotion but rather with caution. Nor should how we manage it be treated as a secondary matter to be deferred, pending actual arrivals.

Matters needed to be considered and sorted out before arrivals, or our throwing the doors wide open, would include the state and condition of our hospitals, clinics, adequacy of medical staff, drug supplies, housing accommodation, other social amenities and our already meagre resources, not to mention policing.

The assessment should also take into account the already added burden of the impact of the abolition of user fees on our already stressed-out physical infrastructure and human resources.

Meanwhile, it is of note that the Americans, one of the key players to the Haitian response/rescue, have not changed or suspended their foreign policy in respect of Haitians fleeing their country. They are to be turned back at sea.

Temporary reprieve

United States President Barack Obama's recent policy announcement has also been informative. According to that policy, Haitians already and illegally in the USA would be granted temporary reprieve. The turn-back-at-sea policy has not been waived.

Before castigating the Americans, there are some realities that confront us and the world community. One of those realities is that the Haitians likely to flee from Haiti, as a consequence of the earthquake, are unlikely to be the injured. They are likely to be persons reasonably physically and mentally fit to assist with taking deliveries of inflowing aid, storage, packaging and distribution.

There is also the clearing and removal of debris, erection of temporary shelters and other infrastructures. Haiti needs all the hands it can get at this time. Undoubtedly, these and other pertinent matters would have influenced the American policy position toward Haitians fleeing their country at this time.

Let us not dismiss Dr Ford's call for caution or allow our emotions to overcome rationality.

I am, etc.,

LIONEL RUSSELL

Ensom City, St Catherine