The issue of developed countries, more particularly the US, deporting Caribbean nationals to their country of birth without providing much information as to their medical and criminal backgrounds and even more importantly, providing some form of support regarding their smooth integration into their home countries, has always been a concern for regional Governments.
Not surprisingly, the matter was raised again, a few days ago, by newly elected Prime Minister of St Lucia, Allen Chastanet and St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister, Ralph Gonsalves, who complained bitterly that the practice was having a severe negative impact on the region, especially as it relates to crime and security issues. Prime Ministers Chastanet and Gonsalves also belaboured the point that very little information or help is provided by the US in terms of reintegrating the deportees in their home countries.
It is no secret that while some deportees try as much as possible to turn their lives around in their new environment, many of them gravitate towards crime, which in most cases places a huge burden on the State to deal with. For this reason, regional Governments have been lobbying the US authorities to be more understanding as to the tremendous negative impact the practice is having on countries. However, the US officials have resisted the argument that the deportations are to be blamed for the increase in violent crimes in the region.
For the record, the US has deported hundreds of convicted criminals to the Caribbean annually since 1996, when Congress mandated that every non-citizen sentenced to a year or more in prison be deported upon release.
In an analysis of deportation data for Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago, a Caricom study found that almost 30,000 criminal offenders had been deported to those countries between 1990 and 2005. Over 17,000 had been deported for drug offences; almost 1800 for possession of illegal firearms, and more than 600 for murder. The US is responsible for more than seventy-five percent of all criminal deportations to the region.
It should be noted that security officials in Guyana have routinely placed the blame for some high level crimes on criminal deportees, particularly those that occurred during the 2002 to 2004 crime wave that gripped the nation when the Government was forced to enact the 2002 Amendment to the Crime Prevention Act, which stated that any deportee who poses a threat to public safety can be placed under police surveillance.
Additionally deportation has caused devastating socio-psychological effects, not only for deported persons, but for other family members, and in particular their children, the vast majority of whom have been left behind in the US, Canada or other countries, and who have little or no contact with the deported parent.
There is no need to elaborate on the challenges that confront countries such as ours when persons who have migrated many years ago are sent back after serving their time in jails overseas. What Caricom Governments need to focus on now is establishing an effective deportee resettlement programme for such persons to cater for their smooth reintegration into the society, so that once again they can become productive and useful citizens.
Many would want to believe that most of the persons who are deported are willing to reform their lives, but the absence of an effective and functioning support mechanism makes this process very difficult.
The main concerns for regional Governments are to ensure more focus is placed on information and intelligence sharing with respect to criminal deportees, in particular access to complete dossiers on medical and criminal history and consideration of financial and technical assistance to establish re-integration programmes within Caricom Member States.
These are reasonable concerns and Caricom representatives should continue to raise them at the relevant forums and lobby their partners for the necessary support in this regard.