Home Affairs Minister touts visa requirement for Haitians

- Haitian Friendly Society not allowed to meet those in custody

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The People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) government is looking at instituting visa requirements for Haitians who want to travel to Guyana.

Minister of Home Affairs, Robeson Benn told the media on Monday that “we will have to institute a system of visas being issued before any of those persons coming to Guyana, to make sure that those who are coming to Guyana are coming for legitimate purposes relating to proper business in Guyana or settlement in Guyana and/or return to their country having conducted business in Guyana.

“But we cannot continue a system where [persons] passing through the country and disappear.”

Minister Benn was at the time responding to questions about the 26 Haitian nationals who were taken into custody following suspicions of a human smuggling and trafficking in person racket earlier this month. The ten men, nine women and seven children were found at a city hotel and in a mini-bus on the Linden – Mabura Road.

Minister of Home Affairs Robeson Benn [News Room photo/ November 23, 2020]
According to Minister Benn, it appears that the children are not related to the adults.

“It does not appear that any of these children have any relations to the persons they were travelling with and so the investigations are underway,” the security minister said.

A reliable source has indicated to the News Room that the children’s parents have arrived in Guyana.  The Minister said it is anticipated that the Haitians will soon be able to return to their homeland once the investigation concludes.

They are being held at a facility at Onverwagt, West Coast Berbice and the News Room understands that the driver of the minibus and others who were arrested, were later released.

When contacted, Kensel Tusan, a representative of the Haitian Friendly Society in Guyana, said several attempts by the organisation to visit the foreigners have proven futile.

“…I don’t know why they do that. I don’t know…if we are not allowed to go, how can we help?” said Tusan, who now resides and work in Guyana.

The foreign nationals last week shared a video in which they claimed that they are not being provided with adequate food and water. They also provided several documents, including passports to show that they entered Guyana legally through the Eugene F. Correia International Airport (EFCIA) and therefore should not be treated different from other tourists.

Guyana in 2019 adjusted Schedule II of the Immigration Act, Cap. 14:02, to include Haiti as a beneficiary to the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), which facilitates free movement within the region and the automatic entry and stay of six months in CARICOM countries.

However, if the decision is taken to reverse this provision, Guyana will not be the only CARICOM country to do so; the Barbadian and Dominican Governments have re-introduced visa requirements for Haitian nationals entering their country. While the restriction applies to holders of ordinary passports, they do not apply to those Haitian nationals who are holders of a diplomatic or official passport, who are business persons or those who are holders US, UK, Canadian or Schengen visas.

Missing Haitians

Minister Benn did not argue that the Haitians are not entering Guyana legally but noted that after arriving here, there is no trace of them.

He alleged that over the last three years, 33,000 Haitians “who arrive are missing.”

“We know that they are not in Guyana, we there are many reports of them going over the Corentyne, perhaps to French Guiana, we know that many of them are said to be going to Brazil, we understand and we believe that there is a strong element of human trafficking and people smuggling related going on,” the Home Affairs Minister told the media.

He noted that a charter flight, which had Haitian passengers on board, was not granted permission to land in Guyana recently.

Since then, Benn said, “it appears that there have been attempts to come through Barbados on smaller planes and Caribbean Airlines to come to Guyana and to continue what we view as Trafficking in People.”

In August 2019, Former Minister of Citizenship, Winston Felix confirmed that while close to 8, 500 Haitians arrived in the country for the first seven months of the year, only 1,170 are known to have departed the country. The rest, Felix said, are not in Guyana.

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