The entry of Haitians into Guyana first entered the national awareness in June 2017 when 27 of them, including 12 children, arrived on a Copa Airlines flight from Haiti via Panama, but no one was at the airport to meet them. At the time, the Surinamese Government had suddenly closed its consulate in Port-au-Prince and stopped the visa-free entrance of Haitians into their country on the way to French Guiana. Because it was easy to get to Suriname illegally through the “backtrack” without the need for visas, it was obvious that Guyana had been chosen as an alternative way station.
The Government of Suriname had bowed to pressure from the EU and, in particular France, because French Guiana, a European Union (EU) territory— which was the Haitians’ preferred destination— was facing severe economic, health and social upheavals from its migrant population of which the Haitians were the fastest growing segment in the ghettoes of Cayenne. After its investigation, the Guyana Police reported that a Haitian medical student was the local point-man in a human trafficking ring involving the Haitians and two named city hotels.
Fast forward a year later, in June 2018, when the Parliamentary Sectorial Committee on Foreign Affairs, chaired by PPP MP Gail Teixeira, summoned the Citizenship Minister Winston Felix and the then Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge to explain the alarming number of arrivals versus departures from several countries, primarily Cuba and Haiti, over the past two years in a report compiled upon request by Felix. The figures showed that the 27 Haitian arrivals were not an anomaly since for the year 2017, 3,515 Haitians had arrived in Guyana, but only 291 were recorded as having departed. For 2018, an accelerated trend was discerned since by April 1, 238 had arrived and only 85 had been recorded as having left.
Felix insisted to the Committee when he returned in August that no “trafficking was involved” and in any event, after July 2018, Haitians were now entitled to six-month automatic stay in Caribbean Community (Caricom) member nations that were party to the Caricom Single Market (CSME) regime. At the meeting, Grenada had argued against the decision since Haiti, in fact, was not in full compliance with CSME and had only said it intended to have in place the necessary legislative and administrative framework for duty-free trading in goods by October 2019 to enable its full integration into the CSME by 2020.
Fast forward another year, to the present, when a newspaper revealed that the number of Haitians arriving but not recorded as leaving had skyrocketed exponentially. 8,602 arrived between January and July of this year, but only 13 recorded as leaving. Ironically, only days before, Barbados, which had led the Caricom countries in removing visa requirements for Haitians, reversed its stance. The island’s Ambassador to Caricom, David Comissiong, said they were forced to reverse their decision to allow free movement of Haitian nationals into the country without a visa because of the “large influx of persons” of Haitian nationality coming from Panama and Chile, who were not entitled to work here.
His explanation, however, revealed that Citizenship Minister Felix had been much too cavalier in his rationale for throwing open the borders of Guyana to Haitian arrivals on the basis of the “Caricom decision”. Comissiong said that the Haitians could enter if they could show they had funds to support themselves, or could only work and live in Barbados if they qualified under the Caricom Skilled Nationals Programme, or the Right of Establishment Programme. From all the available evidence, Felix has not instituted these tests here.
There have been accusations of “racism” because this newspaper raised health concerns over the arriving Haitians being shoehorned in two city hotels. With Haiti having the largest number, absolutely and relatively, of AIDS infections in the Caribbean, and Nepalese UN forces introducing a cholera epidemic that affected over 800,000 Haitians, we believe that these are valid concerns that our authorities should address.