The issue of Haitians’ entry into Guyana is not new. Towards the end of March 2017, a Fly Jamaica chartered flight from Port-au-Prince arrived with 154 Haitian citizens. Citizenship Minister Winston Felix said at the time that they came as ‘tourists’ and were given 1 month’s permission to stay. At the time, Suriname had just imposed a visa requirement for Haitians, even though they were both members of Caricom, but Felix surmised that they were on their way to that country and could enter if they secured visas. A month later, 27 more arrived via a Copa flight from Panama, and with no one to receive them, flags were raised. After its investigation, the Guyana Police Force reported that a Haitian medical student was the local point-man in a human trafficking ring involving the Haitians and two named city hotels.
By 2018, their numbers kept increasing, along with those of other nationals, such as Cubans, and concerns were raised that they were not returning. Of the Haitians, 3515 entered Guyana in 2017, but only 291 left, raising concerns that they might have been trafficked. The Parliamentary Sectorial Committee on Foreign Affairs summoned Felix to offer an explanation, but on four occasions he cancelled his appointment. Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge asserted that the Haitians were on their way to French Guiana and not “hiding out” in Guyana as was being suggested.
Fast forward to 2019, when another newspaper reported that between January and July, some 8400 Haitians had been recorded as entering Guyana, but only 13 had left. Opposition figures claimed that many of these Haitians were being given birth certificates and other IDs so that they could be registered in the precipitately launched H2H Registration process and so impact the elections due after the successful NCM. After a month, Felix finally offered that 8,476 Haitians had actually entered Guyana via the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA), but 1,170 had departed. Then, late last week, he claimed he had received information from Brazil that during the same time period, 6,925 Haitians had entered Brazil via the border at Lethem and, except for 129, the majority left. He noted, therefore, that of the 7306 Haitians (8476 – 1170) who were initially unaccounted for after entering Guyana, that number was actually 381 (7306 – 6925).
But something does not add up. After the 2010 earthquake, several South American countries – especially Brazil and Chile – which had sent peacekeeping forces to Haiti under UN auspices, had opened up their borders to Haitian immigration on humanitarian grounds. In the case of Brazil, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) became involved.
This year, they issued this report: “The Brazil Visa Application Centre (BVAC) is a centre in Port-au-Prince exclusively dedicated to Haitian citizens applying for special humanitarian permanent visas (VIPER), which aims to ensure a safe, dignified and legal migration channel to Brazil. The BVAC centre was created in 2015 as a mean to increase the processing of humanitarian permanent visas in response to the concern of the growing number of people travelling to Brazil irregularly.
As numerous Haitian migrants were falling prey to migrant smuggling and trafficking networks who promised to help them reach Brazil through what is known as “the jungle route”, the Government of Brazil established mechanisms to enable migrants to obtain visas in countries of origin and transit. Since 2012, Brazil has issued humanitarian permanent visas to Haitians coming to the country, which allow them to work and enjoy the same rights of any other foreigner in a regular situation.
With the aim of reducing the risk factors of these dangerous irregular departures, the special humanitarian visas for Haitian nationals offer a legal, transparent, and significantly cheaper alternative”.
The question is why would Haitians keep on using our “coyote-run jungle route” when they can obtain visas to Brazil in Haiti and fly directly there via the same Copa Airlines? And why would 6796 Haitians leave Brazil if that is their destination?