Our Readers' Opinions
November 30, 2012
Bad experience at E.T. Joshua airport

Fri, Nov 30, 2012

Editor: I’m generally not a rabble-rouser or a person who seeks to go about and upset the apple cart. However, I was compelled to write this letter after an ordeal I had at the E.T. Joshua Airport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.{{more}}

After initial excitement months prior, about my visit to St Vincent, on arrival, this quickly turned to dismay, anger and total awe, following my treatment by the immigration staff at the airport. Upon my arrival at the immigration booth, I was greeted with the most unfriendly and unwelcoming look I have received in recent memory. The immigration officer looked at me with such disdain, as if I had done her some semblance of wrong by trying to enter the country.
After this I was subjected to a series of questions that left me completely flabbergasted. Being a former student of the University of the West Indies, I have always heard my Vincentian friends speak warmly about their country, so much so that I was compelled to put in on my “bucket list” as a place to visit before I die. However, this initial interaction made me feel as though I had already died, belonged in hell and was trying to cheat my way into heaven.

After my first interaction with the officer at the booth, I was then told to go and sit by the immigration officers’ office, while my passport, plane ticket, ID, CARICOM Skills Certificate and all other documents were taken from me. I was not given a reason for this, despite having never been arrested or charged for a crime anywhere in the world and explaining to them when asked, that I was a MSc Graduate from the UWI, spending two weeks of my vacation in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

However, all this notwithstanding, I continued to oblige, saying to myself, this is probably protocol and people have to do their job. Therefore, one can imagine my further shock when a group of white tourists, who were also first time visitors to St Vincent just like myself, received a completely different reaction from the same immigration officer I had gone to.
Their papers weren’t scrutinized; everything they said was greeted with a smile and they were definitely not in a corner being badgered with the same set of questions by immigration and police as though they were wanted fugitives. When my party came to pick me up at the airport, a further interrogation was pursued, as she was demanded to come to the immigration office with her ID and was not permitted to say a word to me until so told by immigration officials.

A further episode ensued, where she was rigorously presented the same line of questioning over and over by a series of immigration officers, which surprisingly had a chief on duty that was not even Vincentian, as when asked whether or not he knew an office in Kingstown, he responded that he was not from the country and so did not have any clue. When I was finally released, approximately an hour later, after my party had been vociferously expressing disgust at our treatment for about 45 minutes, I was given no apology or reason for such treatment. I was just simply told “collect your bag and leave”, with the same air of discontent I received initially.

Now, it has come to my knowledge that my treatment is not an isolated incident, but is instead one that has been meted out to other Caribbean nationals who have visited the country, as well as local Vincentians who immigration and customs officials may have determined do not have the “right look”. I say this kind of treatment is utterly appalling and needs to be looked into.
I do not know if it’s a lack of education or training that is the problem, but I implore the powers that be to do something, because St Vincent and the Grenadines is a lovely place, with some lovely people. There are many Caribbean nationals who consider themselves inter– island tourists and investors, not only white people or people who speak with non–Caribbean accents. Therefore I beg that an inquiry into the procedures of airport personnel be done, because it would be a shame to have actions such as this affect the progress of such a lovely country.

Yours Sincerely,

Concerned Caribbean Neighbour