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Guyana gov’t insists Haitians were being smuggled, denies discrimination

Last Updated on Wednesday, 2 December 2020, 20:14 by Denis Chabrol

President Irfaan Ali on Wednesday defended Guyana’s decision to deport more than 20 Haitians who have been detained by police here on arrival since late last month, saying that evidence points to people smuggling.

“This was people smuggling. A lot of it was people smuggling. You had children there without their parents. You had the breach of our immigration laws where everybody gave the same address and the address doesn’t exist. How do we deal with these things so these are the facts surrounding it,” he said when asked by News-Talk Radio Guyana 103.1 FM/ Demerara Waves Online News.

Asked whether visa restrictions were being considered for Haitians, Dr. Ali said, “we have not been discussing that”.  He said investigations were ongoing by the police.

And Home Affairs Minister, Robeson Benn denied suggestions in some quarters that Haitians were being targeted by the Guyana government in contrast to the less than aggressive approach to Brazilians and Venezuelans. “We are taking actions against all those who have entered the country illegally and the proper action too. We are taking actions against those who are clearly the victims of people smuggling and unfortunately it appears only to do with Haitians given the current situation, but it is clear that the movement is not regular and we are dealing with the problem, we are dealing with the issue,” Mr. Benn said.

At least 23 Haitians, who were arrested by police on November 7, 2020 shortly after they had arrived in Guyana have since challenged the constitutionality of their continued detention. That cases comes up in the High Court this week.

The Home Affairs Minister said he could not immediately recall the status of  eight Dominican Republic nationals, one Cuban and 15 Venezuelans. who allegedly overstayed their time in Guyana and were arrested from a well-known strip club, Baroombar International. Twenty days after they had been held, the Home Affairs Ministry on November 13 had said that the women had been released on station bail.

While in opposition between 2015 and 2020, the then People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) had often raised concerns at the parliamentary level about the number of Haitians  and Cubans who had been arriving here and no one had known their whereabouts.

In August 2018, then Minister of Immigration, Winston Felix had said records had shown that 8,476 Haitians  had arrived here and 1,170 later departed from several illegal crossings in the Rupununi. Brazil’s immigration records show that 6,925 Haitians arrived in that country and, except for 129, the majority left. Appearing before a bipartisan parliamentary committee o foreign relations under the then chairmanship of the PPPC’s Gail Teixeira, Mr. Felix had said that during 2017 and 2018- 3,515 Haitians arrived and 291 left legally in 2017 and between January and April of this year only 85 of the 1,238 officially departed, bringing to a total of 4,377 for all of last year and 2018 so far.