Jamaica successfully avoided a large COVID-19 outbreak during the initial months of the pandemic. However, since late August 2020, the numbers of confirmed infections have surged, increasing the total number of cases to nearly 8,000 by October 2020. The government announced emergency measures in September, including curfews and limits to the size of public gatherings.
There does not appear to have been any particular measures taken with respect to migrants or asylum seekers in Jamaica. Although Jamaica is a party to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, it does not have corresponding asylum legislation and there are no official mechanisms in place to assist in the identification of asylum seekers. In 2019, Jamaica only received 5 applications for international protection, according to UNHCR. And although the refugee agency reported that there were no refugees in Jamaica that year, there were 121 displaced Venezuelans in the country. The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) reported that in 2019, there were 23,468 international migrants in Jamaica.
The government has been slow to implement protective measures in prisons. As of 31 August, the government was still refusing to release low-risk detainees in high-density prisons to curb the virus’ spread. In addition, authorities do not make it compulsory for people within penal institutions to wear face masks. The director of the prisoner rights group “Stand Up For Jamaica” expressed concern that scores of inmates may be vulnerable to the spread of the virus, citing the country’s long-standing problem of overcrowding in prisons. Gullotta has called for the government to release low-risk prisoners, especially juvenile offenders who have not seen their relatives in months and are prone to psychological problems. Gullotta said that her “major concern was, in a place like prisons, where people are packed up and in a permanently overcrowded environment, the fact that people can enter means a huge risk for all of them.”
The government’s decision to not impose the wearing of face masks within penal institutions was defended by Minister Matthew Samuda who said that “mask wearing is only imposed on all those who work in the facilities because it’s the people who work within the facilities who could have brought it in.” Yet, on 31 August, four detainees tested positive at the Horizon penitentiary in Kingston. The detainees were placed in isolation and the facility suspended the admission of any new detainees. Two other detainees then tested positive for the virus on 22 September at the Tower Street prison, another Kingston prison.
Although the GDP has been unable to find any information about protections provided to immigration detainees in Jamaica, there are long-standing concerns that the country does not provide appropriate conditions of detention for people in immigration procedures. In 2017, the UN Committee on Migrant workers issued a series of recommendations in its “concluding observations” during the periodic review of Jamaica. The committee stated: “The Committee recommends that the State party ensure that its national laws, policies and practices adequately respect the right to liberty and the prohibition of arbitrary detention of migrant workers and members of their families, and in particular that it: (a) Amend the Aliens Act to include, as a priority response to irregular migration, alternatives to detention for migration-related administrative infractions and measures to ensure that detention is used only as an exceptional measure of last resort, in line with the Committee’s general comment No. 2 (2013) on the rights of migrant workers in an irregular situation and members of their families; (b) Ensure due process in all detention procedures within the State party’s jurisdiction, including in international waters; (c) Ensure that family members and children are not detained on the basis of their immigration status or, in the case of children, their parents’ status and adopt alternatives to detention that allow children to remain with family members and/or guardians; (d) Decriminalize irregular migration and ensure that migrant workers and members of their families have access to legal aid, effective remedies, justice and consular services, and that the guarantees enshrined in the Convention are upheld, in full compliance with articles 16 and 17 of the Convention; (e) Provide information on the number of migrant workers arrested, detained and expelled for immigration-related infractions, the reasons for their detention and expulsion and their detention conditions, including the length of detention.”
- UNHCR, “Submission Jamaica 9th UPR session,” November 2010, https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/4bcd77282.pdf
- VOA News, “Jamaica Launches New Initiatives to Control Spread of Coronavirus,” 8 September 2020, https://www.voanews.com/covid-19-pandemic/jamaica-launches-new-initiatives-control-spread-coronavirius
- A. Glennie, L. Chappell, “Jamaica: From Diverse Beginning to Diaspora in the Developed World,” 16 July 2010, https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/jamaica-diverse-beginning-diaspora-developed-world#:~:text=The%20two%20principal%20laws%20governing,for%20the%20purpose%20of%20employment.
- C. Robinson, “Prisons Beef Up Covid-19 Security – Correctional Services Say No Need for Inmates and Relatives to Worry,” The Gleaner, 29 March 2020, http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/lead-stories/20200329/prisons-beef-covid-19-security-correctional-services-say-no-need
- J. Cross, “245 New COVID Cases; Four Inmates Positive, Too – Mask Wearing Not Mandatory for Prisoners,” The Gleaner, 31 August 2020, http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/lead-stories/20200831/245-new-covid-cases-four-inmates-positive-too-mask-wearing-not
- The Gleaner, “Gov’t to Decide on Release of Certain Prisoners in COVID Response,” 7 October 2020, http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/lead-stories/20201007/govt-decide-release-certain-prisoners-covid-response
- Loop News, “Five COVID-19 Cases at Horizon Remand Centre in Jamaica,” 31 August 2020, http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/lead-stories/20201007/govt-decide-release-certain-prisoners-covid-response
- UNHCR, “Refugee Data Finder,” accessed on 12 October 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/refugee-statistics/download/?url=dE01
- UNDESA, “International Migrant Stock 2019,” accessed on 12 October 2020, https://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/migration/data/estimates2/estimates19.asp
- UN Committee on Migrant Workers, “Concluding observations on Jamaica in the absence of a report,” May 23, 2017, http://uhri.ohchr.org/document/index/72C81C97-E4B1-4BDA-9C14-5017E5DD85D3
- Minister Matthew Samuda is Shown the Cafeteria of the New Broughton Sunset Rehabilitation Adult Correctional Centre by Superintendent A., (Ian Allen, “245 New COVID Cases; Four Inmates Positive, Too – Mask Wearing Not Mandatory for Prisoners,” The Gleaner, 31 August 2020, http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/lead-stories/20200831/245-new-covid-cases-four-inmates-positive-too-mask-wearing-not)