Jun 30, 2021 Editorial
Kaieteur News – In recent news, the issue of the revocation of visa-free travel for Haitians coming to Guyana has been in the spotlight, coupled with reports of groups of dozens of Haitian nationals being found in the country and then disappearing. Of course, the elephant in the China shop of our fragile racial politics is the claim that Haitians have been singled out by the People’s Progressive Party government because they are Afro-Caribbean citizens.
It is likely in keeping with this particular ‘sensitivity’ that when the Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, SC announced the intention to revoke visa-free travel for Haitians, he also announced the intention to revoke visa-free travel for Cubans, perhaps as a sort of balancing measure. The problem of course is that no such measure has been taken related to Cubans as yet, at least not publicly, a reality that might very well work counter to the AG’s attempt at engineering public opinion on the Haitian visa reversal. While this is in the larger context a complex issue, fraught with greater socio-political implications, the reality is that there exists a clear problem that requires a clear, and credible, solution.
Firstly, it should be said without equivocation that Guyana has no moral right – and every reasonable responsibility not – to deny migrants from any poor country seeking refuge here, whether they are from Haiti or from Venezuela or from Cuba. Starting in the late 1970s and peaking throughout the 1980s, Guyanese illegally departed this country by the thousands, running from the dire economic straits they were faced with here. Indeed, even after the change of political administration and the increase in economic fortunes in the 1990s, illegal migration (to the United States in particular but to sister CARICOM and South American countries as well) was still so prevalent that it constituted an industry in itself. Without illegal migration and the eventual regularization of Guyanese in the countries they ran to, Guyana would have been far worse off. Just like the Haitians and Venezuelans and Cubans who come here send back money to their families, Guyanese remittances from a largely illegal migrant diaspora kept this country afloat.
The counter argument of course is that a greater responsibility exists now to manage migration (legal and not-so-legal) here to ensure that an influx of migrants does not overburden the already fragile and tattered social safety net that exists for Guyanese citizens.
That said, the recent issues have nothing at all to do with Haitians coming to this country to create a better life for themselves. There has been the accidental and intentional conflation of two separate and distinct issues – Haitian migration to Guyana, which constitutes at best a handful of persons, and the use of Guyana as a transshipment point for tens of thousands of Haitians being illegally transported to Brazil in particular, following an opening up of the country to Haitian refugees in the wake of the devastating earthquake of 2010. Since then Haitians have been using whatever routes they can take to get to Brazil, suffering – according to several articles and studies – abuse and sexual exploitation along the way, and economic exploitation when they arrive.
No sane argument can be made, particularly on moral grounds, that any government of any country should turn a blind eye to the illegal transportation of thousands of persons through their country. Firstly, it is common sense that unmonitored illegal migration opens up the opportunity for other items being illicitly smuggled, whether technically legal goods such as food or cigarettes or alcohol, or illicit items such as narcotics or weapons. Worse yet, as with every organized illegal movement of people across borders, the reality of human rights abuses exists, whether in terms of extortion of those trafficked for their exploitation for labour or sex, either on the journey itself or at the final destination.
The Guyana government’s decision to revoke visa-free travel for Haitians, while arguably necessary in the sense that something had to be done or seen to be done, is in reality a reactive initiative, one that means little in itself when it comes to addressing the root problem, and less if not part of a comprehensive system to combat the trafficking of Haitian citizens, including greater international cooperation with neighbouring countries, better border monitoring, and vastly improved internal policing. Indeed, the statistics are that between 2015 and 2021, 42,000 Haitians are said to have entered Guyana but only 3900 have been recorded as leaving. With visa-free travel having been implemented in 2019, this means that for the greater part of the period under review, visa-free travel was not a factor, or a significant one, in the issue of tens of thousands of Haitians passing through this country. There is no way that tens of thousands of persons from one country could have passed through Guyana, particularly along the narrow corridor of the Linden-Lethem road, without the complicity of Immigration Department authorities and the Guyana Police Force.
Guyana has a Haitian migration problem, but it is not one of Haitians migrating to Guyana, but migrating through Guyana for a better life in Brazil, one that is not guaranteed. If anything, those who profess to care for Haitian people in Guyana need to both work to ensure that the Haitians who do come here for a better life find representation, acceptance and integration into this society, and also to make sure that Guyana does not serve as a weak (or strong) link in an international illegal migration chain that exists only to further exploit and impoverish an historically exploited and impoverished people.
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