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LETTER OF THE DAY - How to minimise risks from arriving Haitians

Published:Monday | February 1, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The Editor, Sir:

All of us, even the most hard-hearted, have been moved by the plight and the pictures documenting the calamity that has fallen on our brothers and sisters so close to us.

It has been understandingly frightening because of the random and severe nature of an earthquake. Equally frightening are the reports of aftershocks and other earthquakes that have been felt all around us.

Haiti has long struggled with problems that have caused its people to flee their homeland in search of a better chance to have prosperity, or at least a better life. Their desires and experiences, when they have migrated, are not a lot different from Jamaicans in the United States. Like us, they have overcome severe hardships - in addition to the lack of English as their mother tongue - to become full-fledged citizens contributing to the growth and fabric of the USA.

As the tragedy of the earthquake continues to unfold, we will be called on to play a role in rescue, relief and reconstruction. We cannot, have not and will not turn our backs on them.

We must, however, ensure that Jamaica does not become part of that tragedy. We must protect ourselves even while extending the hand of friendship and compassion.

Haitians arriving must be checked for any communicable diseases not because we would seek to discriminate, but to ensure that our citizens are protected and that they receive the treatment they require. Not insisting on the checks is not a sign of empathy but rather a sign of recklessness.

Contact the authorities

The public must not foolhardedly shelter persons arriving without contacting the authorities, believing that somehow turning them over is an act of betrayal or lack of compassion. Cooperation with our authorities will ensure that all persons are properly processed, and the necessary checks done, to determine what assistance those who have arrived on our shores need.

The ministries of Health, National Security and the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management will have a huge task ensuring that Jamaica does not drown under the weight of the exodus.

So, I am asking all Jamaicans who come in contact with any Haitian to inform the police as quickly as they can, so those of us who are trained to give them assistance can protect our people and get the Haitians the help they will need.

The public must help and not harbour or hide them; for doing so will do much more harm to all than any possible good to any.

I am, etc.,


Chairman ODPEM

Commissioner of Customs