BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Wednesday August 31, 2016 – The Barbados Immigration Department is investigating a complaint by a Jamaican woman who said she and her 14-month-old son were mistreated by immigration officers at the Grantley Adams International Airport last weekend, three years after the government had to shell out more than BDS$75,000 (US$37,500) in damages to another Jamaican, Shanique Myrie, who was denied entry into the island.
Sonya King alleged she was subjected to inhumane treatment – forced to sleep on a dirty mattress on the ground, refused water to make tea for her baby, and prevented from accessing her suitcase – before eventually being allowed to stay in the island for two days. And the 24-year-old woman is threatening to sue.
In a brief statement issued through the Barbados Government Information Service (BGIS), Chief Immigration Officer Wayne Marshall informed that an investigation into King’s complaints is underway. He added that once that has been completed “a comprehensive response to the incident will be issued” through the BGIS.
The woman, who has lived in Trinidad and Tobago for the last four years, told the Jamaica Observer newspaper that she went through a “horrific” ordeal last Saturday when she arrived in Barbados. She said she decided to take a short trip to the island, despite the negative stories about the immigration system, but she felt hostility even before she interacted with immigration officials.
“I went up to the immigration officer and explained my purpose for visiting and having my baby with me. The very moment the immigration officer heard my accent and viewed my passport, my situation changed for the worst,” she told the newspaper.
“The officer stamped ‘denied entry’ in my book and he went further by saying that I’m going back on a Caribbean Airlines plane as soon as one is available and they will also call the authorities in Trinidad to deport me to Jamaica. When I asked what was the issue, they said I should not have come there, I should have returned to Jamaica first. They asked for my marriage certificate, I showed them and they asked to see a return ticket and my sister sent it through WhatsApp and I showed them.”
King was detained and she said that by about 3 a.m. the next day, they still had nowhere to sleep.
“The baby was getting fussy. A kettle and a microwave [were] in full sight of me and I asked them for some warm water to make some tea for the baby and they said they can’t help me. The officer that was there asked if I had money and said I should put money into the vending machine and give the baby a juice,” the Jamaican said.
“The baby’s diapers were soaked and the diapers in my handbag were already used up and they wouldn’t allow me to get my luggage to change him. Eventually we were forced to sleep on the ground on a dirty mattress and sheet which was covered in hair. My baby is asthmatic and he started coughing because he was cold. I felt like [an] animal, lower than dirt.”
King said when the flight back to Trinidad eventually arrived and she was taken to the plane, an immigration officer informed the security guard who was escorting her that she should be taken back to the immigration desk. There, she said, the “no entry” stamp in her passport was cancelled and she was allowed two days stay in Barbados.
The change of heart by Immigration notwithstanding, King told the Barbados TODAY online newspaper she intended to pursue the matter in the courts.
“This happen to plenty other people and this has to come to an end. I am seeking to take legal action against them because my son should not have been treated this way,” she said.
King wants to go the route of Myrie, who claimed that on March 14, 2011, she was subjected to a body cavity search, detained overnight in a cell and deported to Jamaica the following day. Myrie also claimed that she was subjected to derogatory remarks.
She took the matter to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) which ruled in October 2013 that Barbados had breached the rights of the Jamaican national, afforded under Article 5 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, by denying her entry. The court ordered that Myrie be paid BDS$75,000 (US$37,500) in non-pecuniary damages and BDS$2,240 (US$1,120) in pecuniary damages because she was wrongly prevented from entering the country.