By Vishani Ragobeer
As concerns mount relating to the smuggling of Haitian nationals in Guyana, Chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne says that despite having the right to move, steps have to be taken by countries to protect their integrity.
The Chairman said this on Tuesday night while answering questions from a Guyanese journalist at a press conference held at the end of the two-day 42nd regular meeting of the conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM.
There were two concerns he drew attention to the movement of Haitian nationals into smaller countries where an influx of people would overwhelm their economies and, secondly, the concerns of the nationals being smuggled.
On the former, he commented, “That has been a vexing issue not necessarily in keeping with the treaty requirements but we have to be pragmatic about these things.”
Meanwhile, addressing the concern of the smuggling of Haitians, he said that the Heads of Government were made aware that many Haitians may have been smuggled into various countries in the region.
“… it’s one thing to have the right to move but if you don’t follow the administrative arrangements or the legal arrangements and you are smuggled into the country then evidently, steps have to be taken to protect the integrity of the receiving state,” the CARICOM Chairman reasoned.
Haiti is a full member of CARICOM and a signatory to the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) that allows for the free movement of goods, skills, labour and services across the region. But, many CARICOM countries, including Guyana, have imposed restrictions on Haitian nationals.
In Guyana, the re-instituting of the visa requirements for Haitian nationals was done due to the illegal departure of thousands of Haitian nationals. In fact, between 2015 and 2021, a total of 42, 100 Haitian nationals are recorded to have arrived in Guyana, according to figures confirmed by the News Room, but of that number, only 3,913 persons are recorded to have departed.
This means that a total of 38,187 Haitians are unaccounted for but local authorities do not believe they are here. The figures have given rise to the suspicion that the Haitians are a part of human trafficking and human smuggling ring of international proportions using Guyana as a transshipment point to get to other countries.
Secretary-General of CARICOM, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque also highlighted that under “normal circumstances” Haitian nationals would have free access to enter countries, like any other CARICOM national.
He, however, said that it is a “very worrying situation” that there seem to be individuals who “seem to be taking advantage of Haitian nationals”. In so doing, Ambassador LaRocque said that some Haitian nationals may be entering countries legally but subsequently leave those countries illegally.
“And that in itself is not in conformity with the laws and so I will say that it is a very, very concerning issue that continues to occupy our mind in terms of how do we address this because it is a problem,” the Ambassador related.
It was only last week that some 50 starving and abandoned Haitian nationals were rescued by law enforcement officials after they were found wandering along the Linden/Lethem trail in desperate need of food and water.
SITUATION IN HAITI
Meanwhile, the CARICOM Chairman also told regional journalists that the ongoing situation of widespread gang violence and some political instability in Haiti is of “grave concern” for CARICOM.
Over the past few weeks, gang violence in the country has escalated, displacing thousands of people including vulnerable women, children and persons with disabilities.
He said that CARICOM stands ready to utilise its good offices to bring some level of normalcy to the country and that it has been working alongside international partners in this regard.