Felix: Over 7000 Haitian nationals unaccounted for
With 8476 Haitian nationals having arrived in the country for the year so far, only 1170 have left, leaving more than 7000 immigrants unaccounted for – but there seems to be a lack of response from the Government to address the issue under the Ministry of the Presidency for the period of January 2019 to July 2019.
While the issue of foreign nationals overstaying their time in the country is not a new one, the numbers have significantly increased since 2015.
In 2013, 188 Haitians arrived in Guyana with 99 departures; and in 2014, 227 arrived and 113 departed.
But in 2015, there were 770 arrivals and only 136 departures; in 2016, 722 arrivals with 451 departures; in 2017, 3515 arrivals and 291 departures; and in 2018, 1237 arrivals with only 85 departures.
While Government has long contended that the immigrants may be leaving Guyana illegally to head to Brazil or Suriname (to head to French Guiana), there has been no concrete moves by authorities to monitor the situation or attempt to put a stop to the illegal movement of people.
These numbers of unaccounted Haitians had raised major concerns, especially for the parliamentary Opposition – which has alleged that there might be a people-smuggling racket afoot.
But Minister of Citizenship, Winston Felix in a statement on Monday night said there is no evidence of such.
“…the Guyana Police Force has made checks and to date, has found no evidence to indicate even a single instance of people smuggling or Trafficking in Persons (TIP), relative to the Haitian travellers,” the statement outlined.
The Minister also contended that the records show that of all the cases regarding Trafficking in Persons, Haitians were not involved.
“In effect, the Department has been working with the police on each report of trafficking in persons and this has been so since 2015. For 2019, the police encountered 18 cases of TIP, 13 persons were charged and 7 cases were brought before the courts.
“The police, who have been working on TIP since 2014, has never encountered a Haitian who is [a] victim of TIP and similarly, they have not charged any Haitian with relation to TIP and that is instructive as to the nature of the Haitians’ presence in Guyana. They are not victims of trafficking nor have we encountered them smuggled into any territory or Guyana,” the Minister noted.
The Citizenship Minister had reiterated that those unaccounted Haitians might be leaving through the “backtrack” (unauthorised ports) to go to other countries.
“Many of the news outlets have been making heavy weather of the Haitians who cannot be accounted for. We have large and unprotected borders on the East with Suriname, on the West with Venezuela and on the South with Brazil. It is very easy to travel from certain parts of the Rupununi to Brazil because of the porous borders. For Suriname, there is the decades-old back track, which the Haitians utilise to travel across and then onward to Cayenne,” he said.
Furthermore, he explained that the legislative adjustment to Schedule II of the Immigration Act, Cap 14:02, might be another reason for the influx of Haitians.
The Act was amended to include Haiti as a beneficiary to the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), which facilitates free movement within the region and automatic entry and stay of six months in Caricom countries.
Prior to the amendment, the Act had facilitated the six-month automatic stay to other Caricom member states including Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, The Bahamas, Montserrat, Grenada, Jamaica, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago with the exception of Haiti, whose nationals had required a visa and were only allowed to stay for up to 90 days or three months.
Since then, Haitians no longer need a visa to travel to Guyana and are afforded the same treatment and welcome that other Caricom nationals have enjoyed.