BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, October 19, 2014 (AMG) — Several Caribbean states have now imposed bans on nationals of various West African countries, as a means to prevent possible imported cases of Ebola Virus Disease.
The move comes ahead of calls for similar bans from bureaucrats in the United States of America, the only country outside of West Africa with locally-transmitted cases of the virus.
Given that the restrictions were imposed on a piecemeal basis by individual governments, and do not reflect a regional CARICOM policy, there are several key differences between the new immigration regimes.
Far more countries in the Caribbean Community have elected not to impose bans and among those that have, many have not explicitly included their own citizens in quarantine control, which is significant in the context of the freedom of movement regime in the Caribbean Single Market & Economy.
Nigeria and Senegal, two countries in which the Ebola outbreak has officially ended, feature on several of the regional ban lists. And, in the case of Nigeria, which also has a high student population in offshore Caribbean universities, at least one diplomatic official has decried the new immigration policies.
COUNTRIES WITH ACTIVE TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO – 4 country ban; 21-day citizen quarantine
Entry is prohibited to travellers from Sierra Leone, Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia. Bans also apply to persons who transited the affected countries in a 28-day period preceding travel to Trinidad & Tobago.
Trinidadian citizens who transit the affected countries will also be subject to a 21-day quarantine. Nigeria was removed from Trinidad & Tobago’s ban list on October 23, 2014.
JAMAICA – 3 country ban; citizen quarantine
Persons ordinarily-resident in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and travellers who visited these countries within a 28-day period, are being denied entry to Jamaica. The ban also applies to Commonwealth and CARICOM nationals with a 28-day travel history that includes the affected countries.
Jamaican nationals who visit the affected countries will be quarantined on arrival to Jamaica.
ST. LUCIA – 3 country ban
Visitors from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone will be denied entry into St. Lucia, while visitors from Nigeria will be required to present a recent medical certificate and visa to be allowed entry.
No specific guidelines have been published on how the country will deal with travellers who transited the affected countries, including its own citizens.
ST. KITTS & NEVIS – 3 country ban
Visitors from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, and those who transited these countries in a 21-day period, will be prohibited from entering the Federation of St. Kitts & Nevis. No specific restrictions have been detailed for citizens of the Federation who travel to restricted countries.
ST. VINCENT & THE GRENADINES – 3 country ban
Bans are in place for nationals of Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Guinea. No specific guidelines have been published on how the country will treat to its own citizens, and holders of other nationalities, who have transited the affected countries.
ANTIGUA & BARBUDA – 3 country ban, right to quarantine nationals
Entry is being denied to persons coming from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea and people who travel to the Antigua within 21 days of departing these countries. Antiguan officials also reserve the right to quarantine any residents or citizens returning to Antigua and Barbuda from the affected countries.
GUYANA – 4 country visa restriction
Visas are being refused to nationals of Liberia, Senegal, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Guinea since a September 9, 2014 mandate from the Guyanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
No announcements have been made on the procedure to be followed for Guyanese nationals transiting the affected countries. Additionally, nationals of the affected countries who are already in possession of valid visas will still be allowed to travel to Guyana.
HAITI – Special restrictions
Haiti, which recently suffered considerable mortality and morbidity rates associated with an imported case of Cholera from UN Peacekeeping Forces, has placed an indefinite ban on the rotation of troops from certain African countries to Haitian ground forces.
BELIZE – 4 country ban
Visas are being denied to nationals of Nigeria, Guinea and Liberia, and visa-exempt Sierra Leone nationals will be banned from entering Belize. Travellers who visited any of the four countries within a 30-day period will be prohibited entry to Belize.
SURINAME – Broad ban
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health has noted that all persons, regardless of nationality, who previously transited “Ebola areas” within 21-days will be denied entry into Suriname. Additionally, Suriname has cancelled its offer to host the 8th Summit of African, Pacific and Caribbean Heads, which was due to be convened in Paramaribo from November 6-7, 2014.
As at press time no other CARICOM Member States have announced travel restrictions, but the Dominican Republic – which shares a border with Haiti – has also banned entry to persons who transited unspecified “Ebola-affected” countries within a 30-day period.
While the Government of Grenada has said that it might consider travel restrictions as a response to the epidemic, no further declarations have been made to articulate changes to its immigration policy.
Travel ban caution: John Boyce, Barbados’ Minister of Health, has gone on record to say that Barbados will be taking its response “one step at a time”, stating that the Government there has advised citizens against travel to the affected countries, and that visitors will be required to declare their travel history on arrival in Barbados.
Barbados’ Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Joy St. John, was also supportive of government’s cautious approach: “It’s a very fluid situation, so the issue of banning travel to affected countries is something that would never be taken lightly.”
Chief Medical Officer of The Bahamas, Dr. Delon Brennen, was similarly tepid about the efficacy of a travel ban, stating: “We know that it is almost impossible to prevent that one case from entering into your borders… but it is what you do with that case once it actually enters the country that makes the world of difference, and that’s what we’ve seen in other places as well.”
Diplomatic reactions: Outgoing Nigerian High Commissioner to Trinidad & Tobago, Musa John Jen, has expressed his disappointment that Nigeria had been included among regional travel restrictions, noting that Nigeria has been free of Ebola for some time.
Instead, Jen advised that Trinidad & Tobago should follow the example of China during the 2002 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak, which used aggressive case detection, contact tracing and containment measures to stunt the disease’s spread.
Said Jen, “China developed a system during the days when there was a SARS outbreak…we have this in Nigeria right now in every point of entry…but of course that it is not within my power to dictate to the government what it should do.”