More Than Just the Words: What the Shanique Myrie Case Could Mean for Intra-Regional Migration

October 22, 2013///by Sara Ghebremusse and Daryl Dujon

On October 4, the CCJ delivered a landmark ruling on Barbados’ violation of its obligations under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (RTC), relating to the free movement of CARICOM nationals. In light of this, the burning questions are whether the Myrie case will be catalytic in how border authorities in Member States treat with CARICOM nationals, and whether the case will create constructive discourse between Heads of Government on how free movement can be facilitated and encouraged.  

The Legal Basis for Free Movement in CARICOM

The right of free movement within the Community has its legal foundation in Articles 45 and 46 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, which state that Member States commit to the facilitation of free movement of nationals and skilled labour without harassment or the imposition of impediments. Article 46 (2) specifically mandates the establishment of legislative, administrative and procedural arrangements to that effect.

The rights conferred under Articles 45 and 46 were further endorsed by Member States in support of the 2007 Conference Decision taken at the 28th Meeting of the Conference of the Heads of CARICOM, in which the Conference agreed that Community nationals should be entitled to an automatic stay of six months in order to create a sense of belonging.[1] Two caveats were added: the right to refuse undesirable persons, and the right to prevent persons from becoming a charge on public funds. The Court, in its ruling, reaffirmed that CARICOM nationals were to be accorded the right of free movement subject only to the caveats mentioned above. 

Issues and Implications Relating to Migration

Free movement is not without its issues. According to a 2004 report of the Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES), the greatest fear of Caribbean nationals is that there will be massive labour flight to countries where prospects are thought to be better. There is the expectation that there will be a strain on national social protection systems, and that governments will need to spend more money on social programmes for immigrants. Another fear is that countries of emigration will become [more] impoverished as they lose their human resources to more developed CARICOM countries. It stands to reason, however, that with proper planning and execution, free movement of labour would facilitate migration of skilled, semi-skilled and low-skilled workers throughout the Community, while avoiding the much-feared exodus of human capital.

While the fear of being overrun by migrant labourers or losing vital human resources is not unfounded, this has not proven to be the case in the EU. [3] [4] It is inevitable that trade-offs must be made between national citizenship and free movement, since recognition of the right to move and work freely depends on the development of social security infrastructure for migrant citizens. CARICOM Member States must develop appropriate structures to support migrant workers and their families. They must also be willing to develop policies at the regional level to create jobs in less appealing Member States in order to provide employment for the labour available. 

The Need to Change Public Perceptions

The 2004 CADRES paper also explored attitudes of Caribbean people toward each other in the context of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME).[2] Not surprisingly, Guyana was singled out as contentious because of the influx of Guyanese nationals into other Member States. The paper also laid bare the ignorant stereotypes pinned on nationals of some countries: Jamaicans were branded aggressive, Trinidadians were branded tricky, and Barbadians were branded as conceited. Without a doubt these stereotypes are acted upon daily by border authorities across CARICOM, evidenced by the treatment of Ms. Myrie at the Grantley Adams International Airport. These longstanding tensions arising from the Federation of the West Indies and stereotypes about cultural and personal norms in individual states have long impeded not only hassle-free travel, but the broader integration process.

In light of this reality, a case must be made for social integration as a critical success factor for regional integration and the free movement of peoples, and an even stronger case must be made for fast and affordable intra-regional travel [and trade] networks. In an article entitled Cross-Cultural Encounters as a Way of Overcoming Xenophobia, Annette Scheunpplug wrote that cross-cultural learning encounters could initiate dialogue with the aim of eliminating prejudices and conflicts. Establishing cross-cultural links at the primary and secondary education levels, for example, could create a sense of "regionality" which will in time replace the notion of insularity. The establishment of a quota system that will facilitate the organized movement of labour within the Common Area is another consideration that could promote regionality. To facilitate free movement, the fact remains that CARICOM countries must explore all avenues available to develop a sustainable low-cost travel network capable of servicing the needs of the Community. 

More Than Just The Words? 

Geographically, insularity is a direct consequence of the separation of borders across CARICOM. Short of building a Trans-CARICOM highway from Belize to Guyana, the solution to the problems of insularity and xenophobia is the facilitation of cheap travel throughout the region as a complement to the right of free movement. While this is not a panacea, it has the potential to deepen social integration, which is undoubtedly a critical success factor in the process. Beyond the words of the CCJ ruling, it will be interesting to see how Heads of Government facilitate movement within the Community, and whether moves are made to develop frameworks to facilitate the process of social integration. While the incident with Ms. Myrie shouldn't have happened to begin with, it may well become the catalyst for dialogue to that effect. 

[1] Many thanks to McDonald Dixon for sharing his wealth of knowledge on the matter.

[2] Caribbean Policy Development Centre (2004) Freedom of Movement: The Cornerstone of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME).

[3] Sophie Douez. Benefits of free movement scrutinised.  April 29, 2011

[4] Julia Gelatt. Schengen and the Free Movement of People Across Europe . Migration Policy Institute. October 2005.