Union, tourism officials back screening plan
Top tourism officials have welcomed the plan by Barbados’ immigration authorities to fingerprint all arriving and departing passengers at the island’s ports of entry, effective April 1.
Chief Immigration Officer Erine Griffith announced the new measure yesterday in a Government Information Service (GIS) release, adding that the move would be followed later this year by the introduction of facial scans.
The news was immediately welcomed by the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF), which said it was long overdue. However, businessman and frequent flyer Robert Pitcher rubbished the proposal, saying it would only do harm to the vital tourism industry by adding to the existing problems at the Grantley Adams International Airport, as well as discouraging visitors.
Today, the Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), Hugh Riley, also commented on the development, saying border security was paramount.
However, he said he would be looking to see what impact, if any, it would have on the visitor experience.
“Individual member countries take whatever measures they themselves feel are appropriate in terms of their resources and their national policy.
“I think the protection and securing of national borders is a priority that all countries have and so that is something to be admired and respected and the citizens of Barbados and any other country that is paying close attention to the protection of its borders are no doubt grateful for those kinds of things,” said Riley.
“From a tourism point of view, clearly tourism practitioners and the Caribbean Tourism Organization will be keen to see what, if any impact, it has on the visitor experience,” he added, while noting that other jurisdictions had similar border protection and security systems in place.
“Clearly it is something that we will all keep an eye on.”
In a separate interview, Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Organization (BHTA) Sue Springer told Barbados TODAY she saw no reason for anyone to object to the move, noting that fingerprinting of arriving passengers was done at almost all other international airports.
“It just means that Barbados is making sure the security aspect is maintained. And as long as everybody is trained and there is a system put in place then there shouldn’t be any more hold-up than there is at any other international airport.
“Everybody knows when we travel what we have to do. It isn’t as if it is something foreign and we are the only place doing it. So I have no issues with that,” she told Barbados TODAY, while dismissing suggestions the move could discourage visitors.
However, given that the current plan calls for fingerprinting of both arriving and departing passengers, Springer said it meant “something has to be put in place to deal with the volume.
“Whereas we now have two or three officers on duty maybe they have to increase those officers, but I am sure if they are going to implement a system then you have to look at your human resource component as well to make sure that what you are doing to keep that system going or introduce it, has the right sort of training behind it,” explained Springer.
In relation to the current back up at customs at the airport, which she said visitors were recently complaining about, Springer said the matter was being addressed and she was confident it would be “dealt with at the highest possible level.
“My understanding is there has been a high level meeting with the Prime Minister and all the relevant authorities and he is working on a short, medium and long term plan to ensure that this can be dealt with,” said Springer.
Pointing out that Barbadian travellers are currently fingerprinted and photographed when they enter the United States, today the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) also pledged its support to Government’s fingerprinting plan.
The union’s General Secretary Roslyn Smith said even though it had yet to be officially informed as bargaining agent for the island’s immigration officers, it welcomed the proposed move.
“It’s a new announcement so I have to speak to our shop stewards and see exactly if there are any changes to their conditions and terms and things like that. . . but I don’t have any problem with [it],” Smith told Barbados TODAY.
In fact, she said she had been calling for such a system for five years now.
“I remember . . . we had a lot of confusion about persons entering and there were a lot of problems with the changing of passports and I said [then] that one [way] to solve that problem was fingerprinting,” she recalled, pointing out that “people could change photos in passports [but] you could only have one fingerprint”.
Given the growing threat of international terrorism, Smith further welcomed fingerprinting of travellers as “a way of seeing who you let into your country”, while cautioning “we cannot lay back and say it cannot happen here”.
However, the union leader acknowledged that officers would have to be trained and that the current laws would have to be amended to cover this new area.