Prior to July 2018, Haitian nationals were required to have visas to enter into member states of the Caribbean Community. That decision was changed last July and it was agreed that visas would no longer be required in keeping with the rules of the Caribbean Community.
No one has yet challenged, at the Caribbean Court of Justice, whether this decision conforms to the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. Not because a decision is made by the Heads of Government, means that it is in conformity with Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.
Haiti is a member of the Caribbean Community, but it is not a member of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy, and therefore its obligations under the Treaty are not the same as those of other states who are members of the CSME. I will in a subsequent column address the legal issues surrounding this decision last year by the Heads of Government.
What this decision means, in practice, is that Haitians can come to Guyana without a visa. As we have seen, they were coming in large numbers even before the visa requirement was lifted. They will continue to come and Guyana has to prepare itself for a flood of Haitian nationals, because Guyana hastily went ahead and implemented the decision of the Caribbean Community.
Caribbean nationals are entitled to an automatic six months stay upon arrival in another member state. But this is conditional on them having sufficient funds to cover their stay, on them not having to become a charge on the public purse or being deemed a desirable.
So it is not a case where a Caricom national can simply arrive and be allowed in. Immigration officers will normally ask to see a return ticket to satisfy themselves that the person is not seeking to remain in the country beyond the time allotted. Questions may be asked about where they will stay and who will finance the costs of their stay. Finally, the immigration authorities can refuse admission if the person is deemed an undesirable – this is usually on security grounds.
There has been a significant increase in Haitians coming to Guyana since last year’s decision of the Caribbean Community. This newspaper reported that more than 8,000 have come so far for the first seven months of this year.
But – and this point needs to be stressed – Haitian arrivals to Guyana have been increasing significantly ever since the APNU+AFC Coalition came to office. In 2014, there were 277 arrivals and 188 in 2013. This is contrasted with the years 2015, 2016 and 2017 when visas were still required. In 2015, there were 770 Haitian arrivals. In 2017, this increased to 3,515, almost five times. This number has more than doubled now and we are only now in the second month of the second half of the year.
While large numbers are arriving, there is no record of most of them leaving. In fact, in 2017, out of a total of 3,515 Haitians who arrived only 291 left; and in 2016 of the 772 who came, only 451 left.
So the question is where are the remainder? Unless there is a satisfactory answer to this question, there is going to be speculation about human smuggling. This can result in sanctions against Guyana.
Instead of providing answers as to how these Haitians have disappeared, the government is asking for the evidence of human smuggling. There is no allegation, as yet, about people smuggling. But if large numbers are coming in and there is no record of them leaving nor is there any answer(s) as to where the missing persons are, then it leaves open the possibility that these persons may have been trafficked.
It is for the government to investigate the whereabouts of these persons instead of asking for evidence of people smuggling. Suppose they were not smuggled out of the country, is the government not interested in what happened to them?
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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