Guyana’s hurricane relief cannot target only Guyanese in affected islands; return of children is priority

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 September 2017, 14:21 by Denis Chabrol

Guyana on Thursday said its relief supplies could not only target Guyanese in the several hurricane-affected islands because that would be discriminatory, and priority would be given to return children after a list is “sanitized”.

“In all these situations, the government of the territory in which there are Guyanese must take charge and whatever aid we send to territories will be to governments and not to individual Guyanese groups,” Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Winston Felix  said when asked by Demerara Waves what systems were being put in place to ensure that Guyanese receive aid being sent.

He said aid provided by Guyana has to fall within the structure that has been established to receive and deliver supplies by all countries. “From the Guyana government, whatever aid is dispatched from here has to go fall within the structure created for the delivery of aid to all citizens because remember Guyanese are there now receiving aid which other countries have sent so we as a government cannot send to discriminate against the other members of that society,” he said. Guyana has so far packed 11 containers of food, building materials and other supplies to be distributed to Caribbean islands from the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency’s (CDEMA) staging point in Antigua.

The Citizenship and Immigration Minister said Guyana has to trust the governments of those territories to deliver relief supplies. “We cannot by any act of commission behave in a manner which suggests that we distrust the government of a particular country in administering the affairs within its country,” he said.

Notwithstanding, he said steps have been taken to ensure that supplies reach St. Maarten and the British Virgin Islands to be distributed by the emergency response agencies there.

Felix, who led a six-member Guyanese delegation to St. Maarten and the British Virgin Islands (BVI) last weekend, said there was a cry from the Guyanese community in Tortola about the location of relief supplies. He reported that there is a great demand for building materials, water, bedding and other items.

Felix said government would be willing to facilitate the return of children because of the threat of disease especially in the BVI. “Our priority will go towards children and I am saying this to you: what we saw in at least on Tortola suggests, because they gave us masks, there is an accumulation of refuse and you could signs of an epidemic breaking out and as such children being vulnerable. They need to be removed early so whenever the decision is to be taken, we’ll have to work with a system of priority to ensure that children are taken care of,” he said.

Overall, he said returning children would have to be accompanied by adults following clearance by immigration in those territories.

He added that a number of Guyanese have already expressed an interest in returning but many of them have included their names on more than one list and that needs to be sanitised. “We had a lot of duplication and other issues crept in and we left that list behind to be sanitised so that we would have a true reflection of those who really need to be evacuated,” he said.

Director-General of Guyana’s Civil Defence Commission, Retired Colonel Chabilall Ramsarup has already said that parents would have to ensure that relatives in Guyana would be able to take full responsibility for their children. A key concern is that several schools are not expected to be reopened until another four months.

Ramsarup has also said the Hugo Chavez Rehabilitation Centre at Onverwagt, West Coast Berbice would be used as a shelter for adults who have no where to stay.

St. Maarten’s Princess Juliana International Airport is  expected to be reopened at month-end for commercial operation. Currently, only emergency flights and light aircraft are allowed to use that un-fenced facility.

In St. Maarten, where there has been “total devastation” by Hurricane Irma, Felix said there were limited preparations for his visit by Honorary Consul, Cleavland Beresford and another person because they were badly affected by the storm. “They were so badly affected that the level of preparation that we expected there, we did not have it so that we did not meet a large number of Guyanese because those persons were also affected by the hurricane,” he said. He noted that electricity, telephone and telephone services were disrupted and virtually all houses were damaged.

Apart from the several containers of supplies, Guyana has also provided US$100,000 to CDEMA for use in own relief operations.