Legal Protections for Displaced & Stateless Persons in the Caribbean Region

December 9, 2015

Kathleen Bush-Joseph
Third-year student at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law.

Recent legal and political developments in the Dominican Republic, and the remarkable confusion that ensued, have shed light on the need for a more comprehensive understanding of Caribbean migration policies, including the free travel regimes of the Treaty of the Caribbean Community. The current global refugee crisis affects the Caribbean as well, and people are streaming into the Caribbean, despite persistent humanitarian challenges. For example, some Caribbean States provide no legal status for refugees, who then have no choice but to turn to illicit work. Challenges also arise due to unique features of the Caribbean, such as the thousands of islands and many languages spoken in the region. Each year, thousands of people take to the sea to try to move from one island to another, thereby implicating controversial interdiction and detention policies involving persons in need of international protection.

These circumstances compound existing State capacity deficiencies and necessitate coordinated action across the region. Thus, humanitarian aid workers, State representatives and individuals in need ought to have a better grasp of what kinds of legal protections exist for displaced and stateless persons in the Caribbean, and how States might enhance these protections in the future. Below, discussion of the Caribbean Court of Justice’s ground-breaking decision, Myrie v. Barbados, illustrates how the Treaty of the Caribbean Community could serve as a point of departure for improving procedural and substantive guarantees for asylum-seekers.

The ever-increasing numbers of asylum-seekers and stateless persons being identified in the region underscore how imperative it is that stakeholders build their capacities to accommodate these persons in accordance with international human rights and refugee law standards. People flock to the Caribbean from as far away as Bangladesh, Nigeria and Iraq. Many of those arriving have fled situations of armed conflict such as the war in Syria, while others seek to avoid the drug and gang related violence plaguing Central American countries.

Although most Caribbean States have ratified the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, they generally lack formal domestic migration structures and procedures—to say nothing of differentiated asylum and statelessness protocols. As a result, international and non-governmental organizations play an integral role in the management of human movement in the area. Regional mechanisms such as the Organization of American States (OAS) and Caribbean specific bodies also sometimes coordinate Governments’ efforts to manage persons who travel to, from, and within the region, but the effectiveness of these bodies has been limited thus far. For instance, the Dominican Republic rejected the OAS’ recommendation on the June 2015 statelessness crisis.

Nonetheless, Caribbean Governments have made significant strides in the past several decades towards enhancing legal protections for displaced and stateless persons, especially through participation in the Cartagena and Brazil Declaration negotiations. Indeed, <a href=”http://perma pop over to this”>Chapter Five of the Brazil Declaration—Regional Solidarity with the Caribbean for a Comprehensive Response on International Protection and Durable Solutions—represents a positive step towards the creation of a Regional Consultative Process for enacting area specific measures.

Within the context of the Caribbean Community, or CARICOM, further measures could be taken to increase the scope of legal protections for displaced and stateless persons. In an encouraging development, CARICOM’s Caribbean Court of Justice issued a ruling in Myrie v. Barbados on a provision of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, which binds members of CARICOM’s single market. Shanique Myrie’s case implicated the right to freedom of movement among Caribbean States because she was a young Jamaican woman traveling to visit a friend when Barbadian officials detained and searched her. Affirming the Treaty’s freedom of travel regime, the Court’s decision expounded upon the procedural and substantive rights involved, as well as the Treaty’s aspirational inclusion of a Schengen Zone like freedom of movement proposal. Therefore, Myrie v. Barbados represents an important baseline for protections for persons moving within the single market, and refugee advocates could take up the Court’s reasoning to argue for enhanced protections for asylum-seekers in the Caribbean.

I elaborate on the aforementioned points at length in a separate article.[1] Here, this brief discussion merely identifies potential areas for advocacy and raises important research questions that should be taken up as soon as possible for the sake of those who are currently in need in the Caribbean, and for the many who will soon follow.

[1] Forthcoming publication.

Suggested Citation: Kathleen Bush-Joseph, Legal Protections for Displaced & Stateless Persons in the Caribbean Region, RefLaw (Dec. 9, 2015),


  • Sam Bush-Joseph Posted December 9, 2015 at 9:40 pm

    Splendid commentary on this pressing issue. Hats off to the author.

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