THE Government is facing increased criticism today as it prepares to open the island’s borders for a plane carrying 62 Jamaicans deported from the United States.
Opposition spokesman on national security Fitz Jackson says it is unfortunate that the Government could not have convinced “our friends and neighbours to the north” to delay the deportations at a time when the island is recording a spike in the number of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases.
“We had sent out a release urging the Government to negotiate an arrangement with the United States to defer the transfer of these deportees, based on the circumstances that we face in Jamaica with the pandemic,” said Jackson.
“They are our friends and we would expect that they would understand the circumstances and defer the transfer of these persons. The Government also needs to take steps to ensure that the persons being transferred are not those inflicted with the virus that we are trying to control here, and upon return to Jamaica they are quarantined so that they do not present a threat to the health of Jamaicans,” added Jackson, as he admitted the Government had no option but to accept the deportees. He nevertheless argued that the Administration could have done more to delay the return at this time.
Desperate to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the United States, the Donald Trump Administration has continued pushing its aggressive deportation policy, and Jamaica is to be the latest to accept deportees.
The American Embassy in Kingston last week said the approximately 62 Jamaicans scheduled to be deported today will have been tested for COVID-19 as the health, safety, and well-being of detainees in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody are among the US Government’s highest priorities.
“It should be noted that the United States has taken, and continues to take, important steps to safeguard the health and safety of those in its custody, including during removal operations. As such, ICE does not remove aliens who are not fit for travel, including any detainee confirmed or suspected of having COVID-19,” said the embassy in a release last week.
But that has been little comfort to Jamaicans who are worried by reports that dozens of Guatemalans deported by ICE since late March tested positive for the coronavirus after returning home.
The concerns of Jamaicans were amplified yesterday by reports circulating that the plans to quarantine the deportees in a secure facility were not signed off on hours before the aircraft carrying them is scheduled to land in Kingston.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced last Tuesday that the Government had redefined protocols and was establishing preparations to have a controlled re-entry of the deportees.
“We have these agreements to take back our citizens who have been deported from overseas. We have a very good relationship with the United States and we were able to have discussions with our partners, with our counterparts, and the initial proposed dates were rescheduled to dates that were more favourable to our state and stage of readiness and preparation,” said Holness.
The following day the prime minister told Parliament that the United States has agreed to give the Jamaican Government money to rehabilitate the former female prison, Fort Augusta, in St Catherine, to be used as a halfway house for deportees.
“It is significant resources. We are going to create a facility there that could become a long-term halfway facility to assist when we bring back the deportees,” declared Holness.
He added that when the deportees arrive they would be quarantined, tested for the coronavirus and monitored before being released into the general population.
The prime minister was supported by Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang, who argued that the deportees should have been returned to Jamaica last month but this was delayed on numerous occasions in order to examine how Jamaica could best prepare to accept that number of individuals.
“We are preparing, so that as necessary or when necessary, we will be able to accept them in the conditions laid down by the Ministry of Health,” said Chang.
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