The Guyana Consulate in Barbados has done several things to improve the treatment of Guyanese at Grantley Adams airport
Stabroek News
March 23, 2002

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Dear Editor,

The ongoing debate in your newspaper about the unfortunate incident in which Guyanese national Huborn David Gaul was taken off a BWIA flight at Barbados's airport underscores the freeing up of Guyana's media under a new democratic dispensation.

I wish to refer to one of the letters (Stabroek News, 15 March 2002) in which the reader asks inter alia "What has the Guyana government done (or can do) to ensure the rights of its nationals travelling abroad are respected?"

Cabinet Secretary Dr. Roger Luncheon answered this question at his media briefing but couldn't go into details because of time constraints.

As far as the Guyana Consulate in Barbados is concerned, your consul has carried out a number of tasks. Within months of taking over in 1994 from my predecessor, the limitations of whose office included the inability to renew passports, I arranged a meeting with the then Chief Immigration Officer in Barbados Ms. Holligan and sectional heads of the Barbados Immigration Department. Among the concerns raised with them was the continued stereotyping of Guyanese arrivals at Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA).

I subsequently met her successor Mr Gilbert Greaves and heads. Among other issues discussed, your consul petitioned the Department to allow the wives and children of Guyanese contract workers in Barbados to come and live with their husbands/fathers for the duration of the contract.

The Department invited your consul (out of the 27 Honorary Consuls in the island) to conduct a session on "the Role of an Honorary Consul" in an in house training programme for Immigration from desk staff. I took the opportunity to remind them of the Consulate's monitoring of their actions towards Guyanese visitors and the right of the mission under the Vienna Convention to seek redress for my people when their rights are violated.

Your consul continues to make probes and investigations, speaking directly to supervisors and head of the Department's Investigations Section, when Guyanese request such representation. They may do so while in Barbados or through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Guyana on their return there. My contact numbers are listed with the Ministry in Guyana and its Barbadian counterpart and at the Barbados Immigration and Customs Departments and airline offices.

There have been results Guyanese have been permitted entry with expired passports after Consulate assurances, for example.

There is sometimes little the Consulate can do (more on this later). A case in point is the practice of Barbados Immigration Officers retaining the passports of Guyanese arrivals. When inquiries were made by the Consulate, it was told that Barbadian law allows for this practice if an officer has reasonable grounds to suspect an arrival is bent on trying to circumvent regulations. The Consulate is told that rather than denying the person entry he or she is allowed into the country and the passport is returned on departure. Apparently, this applies to all non nationals and is done in other countries.

Your consul has registered his concern with the less than satisfactory conditions of the holding rooms at GAIA for those denied entry or awaiting deportation. Reports from Guyanese indicated there were insufficient chairs and, at least in the men's section, only one bed without sheets or pillow. The issue of insufficient or irregular food given to Guyanese detainees was also raised and recommendations made. The Consulate has further urged that those denied entry or awaiting further questioning should not be forced to sit in full view of arriving passengers (commonly referred to as the "Guyana bench"). A more private area, as is the case at other airports, should be provided.

With regard to Customs procedures, your consul met with Barbados Comptroller of Customs and the Customs Department's sectoral heads to raise issues such as methodology in evaluating jewellery worn by Guyanese arrivals. Wrongfully seized jewellery has been returned upon Consulate's intervention.

Last year, the Consulate organized a successful Town Hall type meeting for the Guyanese born residents and visitors in Barbados. On hand were senior officials from the Immigration and Customs Departments and the Consulate legal counsel who is a lecturer in law at the University of the West Indies.

The Consulate's approach is balanced: it is firm and insistent where appropriate and it is also conciliatory and diplomatic. With regard to the latter, it must be remembered that the Consulate, as with all other Guyanese consular and diplomatic missions abroad, is governed by protocols of the Vienna Convention. We cannot publicly criticize the government of the receiving state, in this case Barbados, or the routine administrative work of its statutory bodies such as the Immigration Department.

The bulk of the achievements of Guyana government missions in protecting the rights of Guyanese travelling abroad and seeking redress at this conjuncture and taking into account the broader imperatives of regional unity have been accomplished largely through patient, behind the scenes work. This has been complemented by the Guyana government team's interventions on the issue at Caricom summit meetings and other fora.

The futile "bull in the china shop" approach is exemplified by a handful of immature nuisances coming to the Consulate's Town hall meeting and heckling your consul and embarrassing the invited Barbados officials and the rest of decent minded Guyanese of all races and religions who came to this information exchange gathering.

I wish to touch on wider dimensions of the situation of Guyanese experiencing difficulties at GAIA. Guyanese travelling abroad are advised to always respect the regulations including obeying police instructions of the countries they visit. Against the backdrop of improvements in Guyana's economy providing more spending money and consequently more opportunities for travel, the overwhelming majority do. Statistics provided to the Consulate indicate the majority of Guyanese arriving at Barbados are permitted to enter without incident.

As with other nationalities, some are denied entry for several reasons; having tampered with or false documentation, previously overstaying, coming to work without a work permit or to study without a student visa. Some, like drug mules, are jailed.

Reliable intelligence and statistics reaching the consulate indicate that the number of Guyanese trying to circumvent Barbados Immigration and Customs regulations was considerably greater during the 1970s and 1980s. Fleeing from the harsh economic conditions and lack of democracy at the time, Guyanese came to Barbados among other countries to better themselves and their families. If there were incidents of trying to circumvent regulations (and this happens with any nationality) and if that is still conditioning the response of Barbadian authorities towards our people, this has to be addressed. And it is being addressed through the above mentioned activities and initiatives.

The question why difficulties experienced by Guyanese at GAIA (and reportedly at other Caricom ports of entry) have effectively become a domestic political issue in Guyana stems from several developments. Among them is the fact that the Guyana media is now more open. Some analysts say it is too open. This compares to the restrictions prior to 1992. People may now print or air their complaints. Some issues are however blown out of proportion by organized anti government interests and the facts skewered for narrow, opportunistic aims.

A second factor is that Barbados Immigration and Customs operations have become more "efficient", if I may use that term. Computerisation came on line in 1994 and more security features are in place. It has cut down on those wrong doers getting through relative to what obtained in the 1970s and 1980s. The increased scrutiny has also meant, paradoxically, that innocent persons may be affected.

Your consul will continue to represent the interests of all Guyanese including Mr. Gaul whose case is now being investigated by the Consulate.

Yours faithfully,

Norman Faria,

Guyana Consul in