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CARICOM justifies visas for Haitians

Last Updated on Tuesday, 6 July 2021, 23:28 by Denis Chabrol

The Haitians and Cuban in Bon Fim shortly after they were arrested by Brazilian Federal Police. (File picture)

The 15-nation Caribbean Community (CARICOM) on Tuesday justified the imposition of visa restrictions, weeks after Guyana reinstated that requirements for Haitians coming here due to concerns about people smuggling to neighbouring countries.

Speaking at a news conference at the end of a summit of regional leaders, CARICOM Chairman- Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne agreed that nationals of member states that are part of the regional single market are entitled to move freely.  However, he says CARICOM member states can take steps to prevent mass and illegal migration of Haitians to prevent the violation of immigration rules. Mr., Browne says the issue has been raised with Haiti in the past. “That has been a vexing issue not necessarily in keeping with the Treaty requirements but we have to be pragmatic about these things,” he said.

The CARICOM Chairman noted that member-states have had to take steps to curb the movement of Haitians especially by those who have violated the protocols but instead have been smuggled into various countries in the region. “It’s one thing to have the right to move but if you do not follow the administrative arrangements and the legal arrangements and you are smuggled into the country, then evidently steps have to be taken to protect the integrity of the receiving State,” he said.

Asked specifically if there are exceptions to free movement in CARICOM’s Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, CARICOM Secretary General Irwin La Rocque says the Treaty provides includes exceptions on the basis of public health and morals.

But Mr. La Roque says there is evidence of illegal activity involving Haitians who under normal circumstances will be allowed “free access” to enter like other CARICOM nationals but there is growing evidence that that they are being trafficked. “As has been evident in a number of member States, and it is a very worrying situation- and it is something we had actually raised with the Haitian government themselves-but there seems to be persons who are taking advantage of the Haitian nationals and sometimes entering legally but exiting legally and that, in itself, is not in conformity with the laws,” the CARICOM Secretary General added.

The Guyana government has said that thousands of Haitians have entered Guyana legally but have left for Brazil, Suriname and French Guiana illegally.

President Irfaan Ali on June 22 revoked a 2019 Immigration Order that had lifted visa restrictions for Haitians and had granted them six months automatic stay in Guyana. By that move, only Haitians travelling on diplomatic passports would be allowed to enter Guyana without visas.

Meanwhile, the Haitian Support Group in Guyana is exploring taking legal action to challenge the need for Haitians to get visas on the grounds that it is a violation of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. Activist Vanda Radzik, who is associated with that group, insists that Haitians enjoy the right of free movement. “Haitians are entitled to travel anywhere in the damn Caribbean. It is their right and it is covered under the Treaty and if they want to pass through and go to somewhere where they have families seeking a better life, who are we to stop them,” she on a virtual forum earlier this week.

Article 45 of that Treaty states that “member States commit themselves to the goal of free movement of their nationals within the Community.” There are specific categories of persons who are eligible for free movement across the CARICOM Single Market.

Currently, only two CARICOM countries do not require Haitians to get visas.