Luncheon deplores `intolerable abuse'
Airline sending top officials here by Mark Ramotar and Neil Marks
Guyana Chronicle
March 15, 2002

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`...once you are identified as a enforcement and immigration officers (in some CARICOM countries) engage in that type of profiling and then they visit their wrath on Guyanese travellers' - Dr. Roger Luncheon, Head of the Presidential Secretariat

A TOP Government spokesman yesterday slammed the reported assault of a Guyanese-born passenger on a BWIA flight out of Barbados as the private sector and other groups also registered serious concerns with the airline.

BWIA late yesterday announced it was sending two top officials here to brief the press on the incident but high-ranking Guyana Government officials signalled that the administration was taking a tough stand on the latest reported harassment of Guyanese travellers in fellow Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries.

Head of the Presidential Secretariat and Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Roger Luncheon lashed out at the "intolerable abuse" and "despicable treatment" of Guyanese travellers by authorities in what he called "top ranked" CARICOM states that think they are "way up there".

Commenting on the eviction of Guyanese-born Swedish citizen, Colin Gaul from BWIA Flight 431 last Saturday evening in Barbados before takeoff for Guyana, Luncheon told his regular post-Cabinet news conference yesterday that the Guyana Government is very concerned about the treatment of the passenger by Barbados law enforcement agencies.

BWIA said Gaul was evicted "after he refused to cooperate" with airline staff.

The passenger yesterday met Foreign Minister, Mr. Rudy Insanally and said he was beaten and dragged off the plane by Barbados police.

He said it was a "terrible" experience and his three-year-old son Shaka, who was with him, was traumatised by the incident "because he had learnt that the police (are) there to protect."

Minister Insanally said airlines must preserve the balance between passenger rights and their security measures, adding that he will be writing BWIA to get their side of the story.

"Mr. Gaul feels that his rights as a citizen and passenger were transgressed...The Ministry of Foreign Affairs as we are committed to protect the rights of Guyanese, will be acting on this report," he said at his Georgetown office after Gaul provided him with details of his treatment on the flight.

The Private Sector Commission (PSC) and the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana (THAG) yesterday separately met head of the local BWIA office Ms. Dawn Murray on the incident.

The Guyana Human Rights Association on Monday issued an eyewitness account of the alleged assault and said it was forwarding a copy to BWIA "requesting an explanation and an apology to all who suffered and were forced to witness it."

Luncheon yesterday said he is certain that issues such as these highlight the position that the administration has taken at several important CARICOM fora about the despicable treatment Guyanese receive from their "CARICOM brethren" when travelling.

"This certainly further confirms to the Guyanese community, both inside Guyana and outside of Guyana, that there seems to be something out there that makes Guyanese a peculiar victim of the immigration and law enforcement agencies in our sister CARICOM countries."

"And although we have been advised that many times errant Guyanese contribute to this outcome, still in instances such as Gaul, it does appear unreasonable", Luncheon told reporters.

He said that as a result of the repetitive ill treatment of Guyanese by immigration and law enforcement authorities in other CARICOM countries, there have been various levels of representation by the Guyanese administration. He pointed out that among factors that keep surfacing is the reality that errant Guyanese contribute to "a certain stereotyping".

"...and in many instances that (stereotyping) is what is alluded to, and perhaps a certain amount of `profiling' of nationalities...once you are identified as a Guyanese or look (like a Guyanese) law enforcement and immigration officers engage in that type of profiling and then they visit their wrath on Guyanese travellers."

"Whether this continued abuse has to do with the lack or the inadequacies of representation by the Government, the administration or by state officials is difficult to say (but) I don't believe that we have suffered from a lack of representation," he said.

Luncheon said the matter has been raised as high as CARICOM Heads of Government meetings and as far as he is aware, it has not been removed from the topical matters that attract the attention of the CARICOM Ministers of Foreign Affairs when they meet.

" the level and frequency of representation notwithstanding, Guyanese continue to be abused," he pointed out.

He, however, said, "We will keep on making representation, specifically with regards to each outrage and we will continue the matter on the agenda at the CARICOM Foreign Ministers Meeting and at the CARICOM Heads of Government meeting".

Noting that Guyana will be hosting the CARICOM Heads of Government meeting in July, Luncheon said the occasion "could be another opportunity, a good opportunity, for not only the Guyanese administration but for the Guyanese people to make representations (and) to say to the Heads, particularly of those states that seem to be way up there, `top ranked' in abusing Guyanese, of the intolerance of this practice."

"We will continue talking and making representations on behalf of Guyanese," the Head of the Presidential Secretariat stressed.

Gaul, who has lived in Sweden for the past six years, said the experience last Saturday night was "terrible".

"I can't see that a passenger doesn't have a right to ask a simple question as to why he has to board from the back and instead of an answer, being told to sit down and shut your mouth before you're taken off the aircraft", he said.

He said he understands Minister Insanally's position that the matter will be taken up with the Barbados Government. Gaul added that he would be taking up the issue with BWIA

Insanally said that he was pleased that Gaul responded to the ministry's invitation to meet and to provide a full account of what happened.

"He gave us a full account, and on that basis we would be following up with the Barbados Government to see how they might be able to investigate further", the Foreign Minister said.

"We are living in difficult times, but one has to be careful to ensure that there is a balance between respect for security and a balance that ensures respect for one's individual rights, and we have to ensure that that balance is preserved", he added.

Gaul reportedly complained loudly of having to board the plane from the back door when his seat was close to the front of the plane. He was then told by BWIA security that the Captain had ordered him off.

When he refused, Barbados police were called in, and after he refused to leave the aircraft he was reportedly punched in the head, thrown on the ground and continued to receive blows about his body and then dragged off the plane.