This is an open letter to the Government and people of Jamaica contributed by a writer who goes under the moniker 'A Concerned Jamaican'.
Through this letter, I am expressing concern about the number of persons travelling from Jamaica to states in the Caribbean subregion and farther afield carrying illegal drugs. In addition, I will proffer some three suggestions for consideration.
In the past two weeks, the news in Barbados made mention of four Jamaicans who travelled directly from Jamaica to Barbados and were detained/arrested for transporting illegal drugs. Three such persons were detained during the period when the ongoing case involving Ms Shanique Myrie and the governments of Jamaica and Barbados was being heard by the Caribbean Court of Justice at its sitting in Jamaica.
I am mindful that the subject of the referenced case is not (or should not be) about transportation of illegal drugs but about the principles enshrined in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and the arguable violation of Ms Myrie's human rights. Nevertheless, such a coincidence indeed provides an 'aha moment' for the naysayers.
It is indisputable that most countries in the Caribbean are particularly vigilant with respect to Jamaicans travelling on flights that originate in Jamaica. This is evident since on arrival in most countries, there is heightened suspicion that there 'must be' a passenger (or passengers) transporting illegal drugs. Hence there are extra, but sometimes necessary, searches, detentions, and other unpleasant activities.
In some countries, sniffer dogs are allowed on board before passengers deplane! Regrettably, in some instances, drugs are confiscated and persons detained.
In this regard, it begs the question, what can be done at the point of departure (Jamaica) to reduce the possibility of passengers travelling with drugs to foreign countries?
May I suggest the following that could possibly prevent passengers considering transporting drugs or actually carrying drugs to foreign countries:
1 Media houses' support: a massive public-relations campaign (similar to what is being done for HIV/AIDS and domestic violence against women.) Such a campaign should bombard the public with information about the consequences of transporting illegal drugs to foreign countries. The messages could include information such as:
a) Passengers travelling from Jamaica to other countries have become the prime suspects for transporting illegal drugs;
b) The immediate consequence will be detention/arrest.
c) The behaviour of the immigration and custom officers, as well as the conditions of the penal facilities, varies from acceptable to very poor.
d) The Jamaican Consulate or other designated embassy personnel cannot change the prevailing conditions that exist in the prisons/jails in the host country. No special privileges will be accorded to inmates, even with the intervention of representatives of the Government of Jamaica.
e) Unless the traveller has personal financial resources, free legal aid in the host country is not guaranteed.
f) In most, if not all, cases, the jail/prison sentence must be served and deportation is ensured.
2 Tighter security at the ports of departure in Jamaica. This could entail the following:
a) Recurrent background checks for baggage handlers;
b) Frequent rotation of baggage handlers;
c) More sniffer dogs to inspect all pieces of luggage before they are loaded on to aircraft.
d) Paid informants at vulnerable points from check-in to departure of flights.
3 Large banners with pertinent messages. These should be written in local dialect and standard English and placed visibly in the streets, public transportation, restaurants, schools, and other areas. Prison inmates could compete for the design of these messages.
I trust that these suggestions will be given due consideration. The Government and people of Jamaica must exhaust all efforts to regain respect for its nationals travelling within the subregion and throughout the world.
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