There is no wholesale overstaying or Trafficking in Persons (TIP) with Haitians coming to Guyana. Rather, from all indications, more than 5,000 Haitians who came to Guyana in the last five years and are not recorded as leaving, more than likely skipped via the ‘backtrack’ on Corentyne, Berbice, to Suriname, thence to French Guiana.
These statements were made yesterday as Minister with responsibilities for Citizenship, Winston Felix, appeared before the Parliamentary Sector Committee on Foreign Relations.
It was a sometimes testy exchange as Felix, a former police commissioner, was grilled on why Government continued to allow the Haitians into the country without ensuring they leave.
The Opposition has been hinting that maybe the Haitians and other foreigners, from the region, were quietly being registered, with their children in school.
However, Minister Felix was adamant that the presence of the Haitians would have stuck out like a sore thumb in such a small place like Guyana.
The committee is chaired by Opposition Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira, with the other members on the Government side including Ministers Nicolette Henry and Dominic Gaskin.
For the Opposition, the other members present yesterday were MPs Nigel Dharamlall and Zulficar Mustapha.
Minister Felix was summoned to disclose how the Government is handling Guyanese returning home from troubled Venezuelan as well as Venezuelans who are coming here with the intention of becoming migrants. However, yesterday, the questions were largely on the presence of the Haitians.
Teixeira explained that the Committee wanted to be briefed as Parliament is headed into a two-month recess.
Following a June request for Felix and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carl Greenidge, to appear before the committee, the former had provided information on questions and signaled his willingness to do so on July 25th. However, he was engaged and did not turn up. According to Felix, his duties kept him away.
Also present yesterday were immigration officials and Deputy General Registrar, Louis Crawford.
From figures provided a few weeks ago by Minister Felix, it was disclosed that more than 44,000 Cubans entered Guyana last year with more than 7,000 not leaving.
For the year, over 22,000 entered but just over 6,000 were still here.
Over the past five years, about 17,000 Cubans would have not departed.
Haitians who did not leave since 2013 were over 5,400.
Yesterday, Felix made it clear that it was not a trafficking in person situation, which is being targeted seriously by the administration.
He pointed out that since back in the 1980s, Haitians have been coming here via BWIA (now Caribbean Airlines). Many slept at the Timehri airport before taking flights to Suriname via SLM, on their way to French Guiana.
In fact, the current phenomenon has seen authorities alerting Guyana.
He insisted that the recent government reports have indicated 77 TIP victims rescued for the year. The areas where TIP situations exist are well known, including at the bars.
The official denied that there is any large upsurge in foreign nationals or that there is any special processing for Haitians at the airport.
He called on the Opposition to provide any information that they may have. It was pointed out that there are strict procedures – spending monies requirements and others – which are well known by Haitians who are coming here.
According to MP Dharamlall, the ‘nonchalant’ attitude of the authorities of not being interested whether the Haitians departed is worrying.
However, Felix pointed out that the under CARICOM free movement laws, there is little that can be done to refuse Haitians, who are now recognized under the regional bloc.
According to Minister Felix, it is difficult to pick up at the airport, the victims of trafficking.
Minister Gaskin, meanwhile, queried the Opposition’s concerns. He wanted to know whether the issue was one of TIP or more of how the Haitians left.
According to the Chairperson, the decision to have the minister appear had to do with news reports in recent months over an apparent ring involving personnel at the Timehri airport to traffick in Haitians, among other things.
According to Minister Felix, there are several security sensitive actions that are being taken to handle the matter. In fact, there were transfers at the airport of personnel who were suspected to have been involved in facilitating the entrance of Haitians.
MP Teixeira noted that Government may do well to sometimes act on information that sometimes is not evidentiary in nature. She noted that right at the Ministry of the Presidency, there is equipment to view what is happening at the airport and determine any collaboration with immigration officials.
However, Minister Felix said he would not be disclosing some of the security-sensitive operations that authorities are involved in.
According to the Opposition, the questions have nothing to do with anti-Haitian sentiments, but about what exactly is happening in Guyana.
Minister Felix stressed that the Opposition in its line of questioning has attempted to “merge” an issue of departure by Haitians with that of trafficking in persons.
There have been reported cases of police holding groups of Haitians, a situation that should not have happened, Felix said.
Also present at the committee meeting was Speaker of the House, Dr. Barton Scotland.
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