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Last updated: 30 June, 2009 - Published 12:25 GMT
 
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Migration headache for Caricom talks
 
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The current economic climate has laid bare some of the pent-up frustrations within the Caribbean Community (Caricom), according to some analysts.

Seldom has the annual anniversary summit been prefaced with so many open criticisms by member countries of each other.

St Vincent and Guyana are fretting over Barbados' immigration policy, Guyana and St Lucia complain about air fare prices of Caribbean Airlines and Liat, Jamaica hit outs at import barriers in Trinidad and Belize - the list of irritants appears to grow by the day.

Well known pro-integrationists are beginning to question openly the future of Caricom, which marks its 36th anniversary in the first week in July with its mid-year summit.

One of them, elder statesman Sir Shridath Ramphal, has pronounced Caricom at risk, and said its leaders have a big challenge at their 2-5 July summit in Georgetown.

"They must demonstrate credibly that they still believe in the integration movement, that they care about securing it against risk," he said.

'Mistreatment'

Disputes over trade are nothing new but the ante has been upped over a Barbados threat to deport undocumented Caricom nationals at the end of an amnesty offered to illegal migrants.

Guyana's President Bharrat Jagdeo, has railed against the alleged mistreatment of Guyanese in Barbados at every opportunity, St Vincent's Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has criticised Bridgetown as well.

Outside of Barbados, it appears that no one has welcomed the amnesty.

Much of the recent criticism has focused on dawn raids on the living quarters of suspected illegal aliens.

Sir Shridath, a former Guyanese foreign minister who has lived in Barbados, used chilling imagery to get his point across.

Former Jamaica Prime Minister P J Patterson
Former Jamaica Prime Minister P J Patterson (left) will be honoured by Caricom leaders at the summit

"'The knock on the door at night' is not within our regional culture; still less are intimations of 'ethnic cleansing'," he was quoted as saying.

It is no secret that many Barbadians have questioned whether racial tension will accompany the influx of immigrants from racially-divided Guyana.

Repercussions

The issue of intra-Caricom migration is also an issue of debate in Antigua and Barbuda where the political opposition has accused the government of inhumane treatment of Guyanese and Jamaicans.

The critics claim that the immigration policies of Barbados and Antigua violate the spirit, at the very least, of the Caricom treaty.

But not everyone is buying that argument.

Former St Kitts and Nevis national security minister Dwyer Astaphan, said the pressures of migration could have worrying repercussions on the smaller or better-performing nations within Caricom.

"Already Antiguans, St. Lucians, and Kittitians and Nevisians, like Barbadians, are developing anger and resentment over their perception that jobs and other opportunities in the lands of their birth are being taken away from them by foreigners," he wrote.

Talk shows in some territories are filled with similar tales of concern that one head of government likened to "latent xenophobia".

After weeks of strident rhetoric, the Guyanese president, Bharrat Jagdeo, seems to be suggesting something of a truce.

"No goodwill comes out of this if we engage in name-calling," he said.

Economic crisis

Mr Jagdeo is hoping for a "sensible discussion" at the summit that takes account of the interests and concerns of governments and Caribbean people.

The summit is in danger of being hijacked by immigration - but there are so many other issues before the leaders, including the global economic crisis and the integration initiative pursued separately by Trinidad and Tobago and the OECS.

 
 
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