Minister of Citizenship Winston Felix yesterday condemned what he deemed as “inaccurate and deceptive” information published in two newspapers regarding the arrival and departure of Haitians travellers to Guyana. The Minister said there is a sinister agenda afoot, aimed at using the arrival of Haitians in Guyana for political mileage through falsified information to deceive and sow seeds of discord among Guyanese.
In the first instance, the Minister said the numbers which have been published in the media are wholly inaccurate and misleading.
One media house on August 1, 2019, under the headline, “Out of 8,600 Haitians, only 13 left Guyana legally – Guyana is being used as stepping stone – Minister Felix”, said that 8,602 Haitians arrived in Guyana between January 2019 and July 2019 and only 13 have departed. However, these numbers are patently false, the minister said.
Instead, he said, during the same period, 8,476 Haitians arrived in Guyana and 1,170 departed the country. Forty-eight were refused leave on landing.
“No one would deny that Haitians are one of the higher numbers arriving in Guyana from around the Caribbean but the records produced by [the two media entities] are grossly incorrect and cannot be trusted to guide the public as to what is really taking place,” Minster Felix said.
Records from the Department show that in 2013, 188 Haitians arrived in Guyana with 99 departures; in 2014, 227 arrivals and 113 departures; in 2015, 770 arrivals with 136 departures; in 2016, 722 arrivals with 451 departures; in 2018, 3, 515 arrivals with 291 departures and in 2018, 1,238 arrivals with 85 departures.
In 2019, there was legislative adjustment to Schedule II of the Immigration Act, Cap. 14:02, to include Haiti as a beneficiary to the Caribbean Single Market Economy (CSME), which facilitates free movement within the Region and automatic entry and stay of six months in the CARICOM countries.
Prior to the amendment, the Act had facilitated the six months automatic stay to other CARICOM member states, including Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, The Bahamas, Montserrat, Grenada, Jamaica, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. Haitians had required a visa and were only allowed to stay for up to 90 days or three months.
Since then, Haitians no longer need a visa to travel to Guyana and are afforded the same treatment and welcome that other CARICOM nationals have enjoyed.
“Firstly, travel was restricted to only those who were granted a visa. This was the case up to 2017. Since then, we have had the CSME regime adjusted to accommodate Haitians into that scheme. As a consequence, Haitians are treated like any other CARICOM national. The benefits of the CSME are available for every CARICOM national and that includes Haitians. A Haitian arriving in Guyana, just like any other Caribbean country is entitled to be landed for six months and is processed the same way; on a case by case basis,” he said.
Further to this, Minister Felix said, Haitians have capitalised on free movement within the region to travel to Guyana and other states.
“I know in some instances the Haitians have walked over mountains to the Dominican Republic to catch flights to Central and South America using whatever airlines are available. This, along with the relaxation of the visa requirement, has allowed for freer movement of Haitians around the region. Many of the news outlets have been making heavy weather of the Haitians who cannot be accounted for. We have large and unprotected borders on the East with Suriname, on the West with Venezuela and on the South with Brazil. It is very easy to travel from certain parts of the Rupununi to Brazil because of the porous borders. For Suriname, there is the decades-old backtrack which the Haitians utilise to travel across and then onward to Cayenne,” he said.
From January 2019 to July 30, 2019, there were 45, 944 arrivals of Americans; 2,980 arrivals of Barbadians; 5,048 arrivals of Brazilians; 2,548 of British nationals; 12,259 arrivals of Canadians; 1,995 arrivals of Chinese; 41, 272 arrivals of Cubans; 679 arrivals of Indians; 2,900 arrival of Surinamese and 11,119 arrival of Trinidadians.
Yet, the Minister said, no concerns have been raised about these other nationalities. As such, he said, the media attacks and the rhetoric being promoted by the two media houses against the Haitians are nothing short of xenophobic and should be condemned by all Guyanese.
“This position resembles xenophobia and is even practised by certain people in power. I cannot see why a CARICOM state, which has now gotten CSME status, can be so vilified for passing through Guyana. They are just passing through and yet they are attracting all the negative thoughts and actions of people who are seeking power. We have 8,476 Haitians arriving in Guyana but for example, we have 11,119 Trinidadians also arriving for the same period and no one is making a noise about that but everyone is making noise about the Haitians who simply use Guyana as a point of transit to get to their diaspora in Columbia, Cayenne or Panama,” the Minister said.