Natalie Dietrich Jones
There has been significant criticism of the Barbadian government and its agents (immigration officials), in light of the Shanique Myrie case. There is some justification for this response in light of similar experiences recounted to me during the five months I spent doing fieldwork in Barbados as part of my PhD research. But in all of this, is it possible to advance a defence for Barbados?
I returned to Jamaica from Barbados in mid-March 2010 and it was not long thereafter that the first stories emerged in print media regarding Ms Myrie's experience. My immediate reaction was to believe her story. During my interactions with migrants, I had heard other harrowing experiences of how CARICOM nationals are treated when they had attempted to gain entry into Barbados and once they had commenced their lives there.
These narratives contained certain common threads which revealed a number of key points. First, the hostile reception of CARICOM nationals arriving in Barbados is a long-standing problem. Several migrants provided examples of having been turned around at the airport, a sort of summary repatriation having been refused entry and then sent home on the next available flight.
Second, the 'sifting' of migrants resulted in the targeting of certain nationalities, in particular Guyanese and Jamaican nationals. Finally, the introduction of a common processing line for CARICOM nationals did not facilitate hassle-free travel but, rather, had made the targeting of 'suspect' migrants easier for immigration officials.
One of my principal findings was that the treatment meted out to migrants is central in creating a 'geography of fear'. This geography of fear permeates Barbadian society, such that migrants lead very circumspect lives, refusing, for example, to speak in public or to attend public gatherings, as they were afraid of being detained by immigration officials. The majority of these migrants had previously been undocumented - a positionality which can lead to vulnerability.
But what I also found, given the deeply embedded racial divisions in Barbados where white skin is privileged, is that migrants were targeted not based on their status, but for being 'foreign'. In Barbados, being foreign - being of Afro- or Indo-descent or being a citizen from a lesser-developed CARICOM neighbour - was the basis on which migrants were adjudged and subsequently treated.
These migrants were undocumented, as they had arrived in the island on short-term stay; however, thereafter they had spent extensive periods of time working without the requisite documentation - a work permit. This point needs to be clear, as outside of the 10 categories of skilled nationals granted freedom of movement within the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) framework, migrants would require a work permit, not only in Barbados but in any other CSME member state.
PERMIT REQUIREMENT MORE RELEVANT
The requirement for a work permit was even more relevant before the implementation of the CSME in 2006, as most migrants I had interviewed had arrived to Barbados before this time, when a discretionary migration regime is what dictated migration policy (MacAndrew, 2009).
It should be noted that the migratory trends to Barbados are part of larger intraregional patterns of seasonal, temporary and long-term intraregional migration. Scholars have argued that such migration is a well-established element of Caribbean consciousness and culture (Maingot, 1982; Marshall, 1982; Thomas-Hope, 1998). My research shows that based on this deeply entrenched culture, and migrants' own conceptualisation of regional identity, they (mis?)appropriated the rights to freedom of movement. The result is (undocumented) inward migration to a number of destinations, like Barbados, which offer possibilities for fuller employment and social mobility.
This is not to defend migrants' circumvention of migration requirements, but rather to partly explain its genesis. Marshall notes that 'people have been moving out of their islands, almost continuously, for 150 years' (Marshall, 1982:6). Thus the establishment and evolution of intraregional patterns predate attempts within the region to integrate, which commenced in the 1950s.
The Caribbean migratory culture also needs to be juxtaposed against the current rules regarding freedom of movement in the CARICOM space. These rules are enshrined in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (RTC) in Articles 32-37 and 45-46 which relate to Rights of Establishment and Free Movement of Persons, respectively. Rights of Establishment enable self-employed CARICOM nationals the right to move within the region, for the purposes of creating and managing business enterprises.
The arrangements for the free movement of nationals enable 10 categories of skilled nationals, including university graduates, media personnel, sportspersons, artists and musicians, teachers, nurses, artisans, persons with associate degrees and domestics, the right to live and work in another CSME territory without the need for a permit.
In addition, the provisions outlined within the Revised Treaty are complemented by the decision taken by the CARICOM heads of government (HOG) in 2007 regarding hassle-free travel for CARICOM nationals. Thus, CARICOM nationals ought to be afforded ease of movement between CSME member states and the right to stay for up to six months (definite entry).
Misunderstanding of Rules
Yet, there seems to be acceptance within CARICOM that there is a misunderstanding of the rules regarding freedom of movement and hassle-free travel within CARICOM. The following is posted in one of the sections relating to free movement of skills on the CSME website (http://csmeonline.org/en/skilled-labour/item/91-what-its-not):
Free movement of skills is not a right to permanent residency or citizenship!
There are currently no rights regarding free movement solely for purposes of residency or permanent naturalisation or citizenship. If a person wishes to migrate from one CARICOM state to live in another, he/she must still apply for residency or citizenship, in accordance with the laws of the host country.
The persons who are eligible for free movement of skills/labour must be engaged in some kind of legitimate economic activity in the CSME as either a wage earner or a non-wage earner.
This excerpt cautions against CARICOM nationals, whether intentionally or not, breaching the rules regarding freedom of movement (where they fall outside of the 10 categories), by living and working in CSME territories without a work permit.
My research has, therefore, shown that there is a disjoint at two interconnected levels: (1) the CARICOM mobility regime is yet to catch up with the cultural practices which have become entrenched with the region vis--vis migration; (2) national governments, like Barbados, sometimes sacrifice the mobility component of the integration project in order to manage migration.
UNACCEPTABLE LEVELS OF UNDOCUMENTED MIGRATION
In Barbados, the government argued (without providing statistics) that 'current levels [of undocumented migration] are unacceptably high, increasingly difficult to control and pose potentially negative socio-economic challenges for the country'. This has resulted in what I suggest to be a hostile approach to persons deemed unsatisfactory by immigration officials, with the objective being to deter undocumented migration by trying to detect 'suspect' migrants.
At the Barbadian border, this results in lengthy interrogations; segregation and detention of 'suspect' migrants (leading, for example, to the term the 'Guyanese' bench, since it is largely Guyanese affected by this segregation); arbitrary refusal of entry; summary repatriation (turnarounds); and granting of less than six months' stay to CARICOM nationals.
These border practices create undue hassle for intra-CARICOM travellers, and thus contravene the spirit of RTC and the 2007 HOG decision.
While Barbados is within its right as a sovereign state to implement policies to protect its national interest, those actions ought not to breach individuals' right to hassle-free entry, and certainly not their fundamental right to freedom of movement (a constitutional, and I would add fundamental universal right rather than community right). Thus, Barbados should not be actively engaged in a pre-emptive migration policy that is solely based on the discretion of immigration officials, whose behaviour is influenced by cultural norms and mores which are anti-'foreigner'.
To be fair, the management of migration at the border is always subject to discretion. Migration officials who are trained to detect 'suspect' migrants must rely on intuition, training and years of experience as border officials (Friedman, 2010; Shamir, 2005). What, therefore, needs to be questioned, as has been raised in discussions post the ruling of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on the Shanique Myrie case, is how to accommodate such discretionary action by national officials given commitments to a regional framework encouraging freedom of movement.
Indeed, where national culture clashes with expectations of states, based on their regional commitments, how can one realistically expect border practices to change? The comments of Sir Shridath Ramphal, chairman of the West Indian Commission, are instructive in this regard:
"The first lesson is that the full and whole-hearted involvement of civil servants at the national level is essential if decisions taken even at summit are to issue in action where it matters, that is, at the ground level. Commissions, even heads of government, may propose, but civil servants, in the end, dispose. This is a universal truth which the existing decision-making machinery in CARICOM does not fully accommodate.
"An imperial ukase to introduce hassle-free travel, for instance, will not yield results at the immigration and customs barriers unless employees of immigration and customs departments from top to bottom are not only instructed, but are enlisted in the cause over a substantial period of time" (The West Indian Commission, 1992).
We, therefore, wait to see whether the recent ruling by the CCJ will, in fact, transform current border practices in Barbados.
Freedom of movement has been a contentious issue since the proposals for Federation. In order to arrive at decisions on how best to enable freedom of movement, a committee was established to review the impact of migration on Federation economies (Mordecai, 1968; Wallace, 1977). I do not believe any similar initiative has been undertaken by CARICOM.
It is, therefore, difficult to challenge member states' assertions regarding the potential impact of intraregional migration on their economies and societies, in the absence of such an evaluation. The 2010 CARICOM study perhaps comes closest in this regard, but as it was an assessment on the current status of freedom of movement within CARICOM, it does not fully address the potential impact of migration.
Natalie Dietrich Jones is a finalising PhD candidate at the University of Manchester, UK. She currently teaches international relations in the Department of Government at the UWI. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.