GEORGETOWN, Guyana--Between January – July 2019, more than 8,600 Haitians arrived in Guyana and “only 13 left the country legally.” In a display of hysteria to feed the base of multiple factions, “The Haitians are coming,” is making headlines across the country.
The opposition and its constituents are claiming “the ‘Black government’ in Guyana is doling out citizenship to the Haitians in an effort to have them register to vote for the ruling government and by selective means avert the Indian-dominated Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) from winning the upcoming general election.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, it was learned that “a significant number of the 8,600-plus Haitians who arrived in Guyana during the last seven months made way to Lethem, a frontier town neighbouring Brazil” according to investigations by the Guyana Kaieteur.
The Haitians cannot be accounted for because they do not remain in Guyana. They continue to Brazil and Suriname illegally through the so-called “backtrack” to get to French Guiana and elsewhere in South America. Haitians constitute 30-50 per cent of the immigrant population in French Guiana.
The massive border between Guyana, Brazil and Suriname is unmanned and this is why there are no records of them exiting the country exist.
On Friday, the issue got unpleasant. The Guyana Times headlined “Influx of Haitians into Guyana raises major health concerns……as Haiti leads in HIV/AIDS, cholera, TB.
“Haiti is among the leading countries for its high statistics on Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and the cholera epidemic, the country has the “worst health indicators of the Americas”, with the highest malnutrition, infant mortality, maternal mortality and most importantly, skyrocketing HIV/AIDS figures.
“With an estimated adult HIV prevalence rate of 2.3 per cent, the Caribbean is the second worst-affected region in the world after sub-Saharan Africa.”
Last week, leader of the opposition Bharrat Jagdeo, from the People’s Progressive Party/ Civic alleged,” the surge of immigrants and the ongoing House-to-House Registration being conducted by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) are more than mere coincidences. Jagdeo compared the number of Haitian immigrants arriving and departing from Guyana over the past few years.
“For a while now, we have been speaking about the massive influx of foreign nationals. We believe a lot of it is [human trafficking] smuggling, that it is a very lucrative criminal enterprise. But recently, after the passage of the no-confidence motion, we saw a surge in the numbers. This surge has something to do with the registration process that is going on now,” the opposition leader said.
The Guyana-based Kaieteur News (KN) said, “The Haitians, on average of about 50 of them daily, have been arriving here via Copa Airlines, a Panamanian-registered service which flies also to Haiti. There are few indications of what the situation is…human smuggling, trafficking or something else.”
Minister with responsibility for citizenship Winston Felix defended his government’s visa-free policy towards Haitians stating, “Let me reiterate government’s firm and settled position on CARICOM nationals arriving in Guyana. Apart from our laws which would restrict the entry of anyone to Guyana, all CARICOM nationals arriving in Guyana are granted six months to remain in the country with the possibility of extension.
“I am checking on the veracity of the statement that three busloads of Haitians have arrived in Guyana,” Felix added, “We have found that their intention is to get to relatives in Suriname, Cayenne, Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela. We have traced legal departures, but there is a number we cannot account for and those we suspect left illegally (backtrack).”
However, Felix failed to accept that this is part of a larger network of human trafficking. He said, “We have not found evidence of trafficking in Haitians. Venezuelans are the subjects of that offense as the prosecution of current cases suggests.”
Getting the Haitians to French Guiana is organized from Haiti where a vast network of Rakete (smugglers) and Ajans (agencies) extends to Suriname, French Guiana and beyond. Haitians do not need a visa to enter Guyana that is why there is an influx. The cost of getting to France in South America, Cayenne has decreased; more people can afford to pay the smugglers.
The hypothesis is that “once they get to Guyana it is easy to enter ‘Suriname illegally’.” From Suriname, the taxi will bring them to Albina where they will meet the boatman who will take them over the Marowijne River to French Guiana, a European Union (EU) territory. Some may have relatives in La Guyane. Some will continue their journey to other parts of South America including Chile.
When Suriname granted Haitians visa-free access to the country the same thing happened. They arrived in large numbers, but most left Suriname. Due to pressure from France and the European Union, Suriname abruptly closed its Port-a-Prince consulate and its Ministry of Justice announced that Haitians needed a visa to enter Suriname. However, Suriname, Guyana and Haiti are CARICOM nationals, free movement of goods and services form part of that treaty.
Several incidents reported by the media of Suriname just this year referenced a surge of Haitians entering Suriname illegally from Guyana. In January, the police arrested 24 Haitians for entering the country illegally. Two days earlier on December 12, in Coronie 18 illegal Haitians were arrested. The “human smugglers – two brothers and a co-driver were arrested.” Suriname police concluded that they came from Guyana.
Cubans also make up a large number of people who arrive in Guyana onwards to South America and as far as Chile.