CONCERNS of economic strain on smaller islands in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and smuggling afflict the free movement of Haitian nationals in the Caribbean, according to the Chairman of the CARICOM, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne.
On Tuesday night, while fielding questions at a press conference held virtually at the end of the 42nd regular meeting of the conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM, Prime Minister Browne acknowledged that the free movement of Haitian nationals and the visa-restrictions imposed by CARICOM countries have been a contentious matter.
“Obviously Haitians have the right to move, but, again, I recognise that some countries have been trying to manage their immigration policy and not have a large enough influx of Haitians in which they will become overwhelmed,” he said. Explaining this point, he said that a small island like St. Kitts and Nevis could become overwhelmed overnight if there was an influx of people and that would result in a strained social services sector.
What this means is that the state would be unable to adequately provide crucial services such as health care to the residents who have a right to such services.
“That has been a vexing issue not necessarily in keeping with the treaty requirements, but we have to be pragmatic about these things,” the Chairman contended.
Beyond concerns over the burden that could be placed on countries, the Prime Minister also related that CARICOM has been apprised of travel which has not been accompanied by an adherence to the “proper protocols” which has raised concerns of smuggling. To this end, he said: “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 concerns of the smuggling of Haitian nationals have been one raised by Guyanese authorities, and has intensified over the past few months, leading to President, Dr. Irfaan Ali reinstituting visa-requirements for the nationals, as is done in many other Caribbean countries.
According to immigration data provided to the Guyana Chronicle, for the period 2015 to June 17, 2021, there has been an unusually large influx of Haitian nationals who have entered Guyana but failed to leave, at least through the requisite legal channels.
The statistics highlight that of the 42,100 arrivals of Haitian nationals for the stated period, some 38,187 of them cannot be accounted for. Only 3,913 have been registered to have legally departed the shores of Guyana. Weighing in on the issue was Secretary-General of CARICOM, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, who highlighted that there are exceptions in terms of public health and morals to the free movement of people provision afforded by CARICOM.
“The situation is that under normal circumstances, Haitian nationals would have free access to enter like any other CARICOM national,” the Secretary-General said.
He, however, noted that “there seems to be persons who seem to be taking advantage of Haitian nationals” and that sometimes these nationals may enter countries legally but exit illegally.
“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,” he lamented. Meanwhile, it was also acknowledged that Haiti has been confronted by immense turmoil owed to political instability and violence. The CARICOM leaders, on Tuesday night, said that they were engaging stakeholders on the matter and were trying to see a speedy resolution to the turmoil.
Hours later, at around 01:00h on Wednesday morning, Haitian President Jovenel Moise was assassinated at his private residence in Haiti’s capital and his wife, First Lady Martine Moise was severely wounded.