Home / View Point / Letters to the Editor / Dear Editor: CARICOM, community, law and the PM’s invitation to Dominicans

Dear Editor: CARICOM, community, law and the PM’s invitation to Dominicans

“The public consternation caused by the Government’s decision also calls our value system into question. As all Caribbean people can attest, anywhere you travel in the world, you are guaranteed lodging in the home of some friend or family. Hospitality is as Caribbean as sun, sea and sand.

“Furthermore, for a people for whom religion is part and parcel of our everyday existence, we seem to have a convenient faith.”

The following Letter to the Editor, which examines the Trinidad and Tobago Government’s recent decision to offer a six-month stay to Dominican citizens from the perspective of Community (CARICOM) law, was submitted to Wired868 by attorney-at-law Ria Mohammed-Davidson:

Photo: Women look for refuge in Dominica during Hurricane Maria’s pounding.
(Copyright Times of Oman)

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

This quotation comes from the sonnet “The New Colossus” penned in 1883 by Emma Lazarus and has been immortalized at the base of the Statute of Liberty. Undoubtedly, Lazarus’ appeal to a common humanity is an underlying theme of the decision of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to offer a six-month stay to residents of Dominica in the wake of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria.

The visceral responses which this decision has provoked betray an unfortunate lack of awareness of the full panoply of rights contained in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, particularly the right to free movement under Article 45. This right was further concretised in the 2007 Heads of Government decision which granted to all CARICOM nationals an automatic, six-month stay upon arrival in any Member State.

The right of free movement was the central focus of the seminal decision of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in Shanique Myrie v Barbados where Ms Myrie, a Jamaican national, successfully sued Barbados after she was denied entry by immigration officials, subjected to a body cavity search and detained overnight in unsanitary conditions.

In Myrie, the CCJ not only granted judicial imprimatur to the right of automatic, hassle-free six-month entry but also detailed the narrow exceptions thereto, such as where a person will become a charge on public funds or a threat to public morals, public safety or public health. The Myrie principles on free movement were later affirmed by the CCJ in Maurice Tomlinson v Belize and Trinidad and Tobago.

Photo: An aerial view of Dominica after Hurricane Maria.
(Copyright Express.co.uk)

It stands to reason that someone who has lost all his/her material possessions in a hurricane and seeks to enter Trinidad and Tobago will be hard-pressed to show that (s)he is not likely to become a charge on public funds. Presumably, therefore, all the Government has done is to adopt a relaxed approach to the application of that exception for Dominican residents now seeking to enter our country.

The exception does not appear to have been removed entirely as the Government’s offer was expressed as being open to Dominicans who have family, friends or acquaintances in Trinidad and Tobago. This qualification is seemingly geared at ensuring that someone will undertake to provide for them during their stay, thereby preventing them from becoming a burden on the State.

In the absence of any specific indication that the second exception expressed in Myrie has been removed or relaxed, one is left to assume that it remains intact.

The public consternation caused by the Government’s decision also calls our value system into question. As all Caribbean people can attest, anywhere you travel in the world, you are guaranteed lodging in the home of some friend or family. Hospitality is as Caribbean as sun, sea and sand.

Furthermore, for a people for whom religion is part and parcel of our everyday existence, we seem to have a convenient faith. Surely the Christian virtues of love and charity, the Hindu tenets of dharma, dana and karma and the Muslim principle of zakat call upon us to assist our Dominican neighbours in their time of need.

Photo: A satirical take on religion.
(Copyright Glasbergen.com)

Religion aside, we also seem to have forgotten that, except for the First Peoples, we have all come to these shores because of some displacement, involuntary or otherwise. The naysayers to the Government’s plan would do well to remember that “Today it’s me, tomorrow it might be you.”

It seems that the winds of change ushered by the 2017 hurricane season can serve not only as a stark reminder of our peculiar vulnerability to climate change but also as a catalyst for a regional conversation about immigration. In this debate, it is beyond question that the right of hassle-free entry and an automatic six-month stay for all CARICOM nationals entering a Member State is a fundamental principle of Community law.

Come what may, we would do well to remember the rights we all enjoy as CARICOM nationals, hurricane or no hurricane, promise or no promise.

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23 comments

  1. This not a political issue, please!!! Humanity is being replaced by selfishness and lack of real empathy. As a people known for their hospitality and warmth, we are allowing ‘externalities’ to dictate how we behave towards each other. Rethink! Refocus!

  2. I am not able to measure but is there really significant oposition to welcoming Dominicans or is a tiny minority being very loud?

  3. After all that was said if I was a Dominican I would go to another Island or stay in mine and die with my dignity

  4. I duly see no wrong in it, as one can learn a alternative language as I am currently attempting and divulge in another culture whilst giving board to neighbour in need but what I do see is a nation taking a stance on the ills of our government who was very much AWOL when we needed them. IF YOUR VIEWS DIFFER MESSAGE ME AND WE COULD HAVE A DISCUSSION.

  5. What is 6months???Who can possibly spend 6 months here and be well enough to go back with everything they need to carry them through???? do they have any body building up they house for them???if so why de ass they can’t stay and help to build up they own house?????

  6. Please don’t make this political, please help if you can. If you don’t want to help then shut up and sit down.

  7. My heart is heavy, I’m very sad reading some of the comments from Trinidadians concerning we Trinis (government included) helping Dominicans. How can someone disapprove of us doing what we can to help our brothers and sisters in Dominica? How can you turn this into political bickering? How can you compare what happened in Dominica to a few homes being flooded out here in Trinidad. My GOD, do we trinis have a heart? We may one day want help ourselves. I’m so disappointed I can’t put it into words.