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State agencies and non-governmental organisations struggled on Wednesday to locate 34 Haitians who had been thrown out from their apartments the day before.
Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs Kirk Humphrey revealed that officials from the Child Care Board had been combing the areas around Wanstead Gardens, St James to inquire about the well-being of the eight minors and a pregnant woman in the group.
Meanwhile, Barbados’ Ambassador to CARICOM David Comissiong said a local branch of MPH, the agency contracted to take the Haitians to South America, is still working to complete their travel arrangements.
However, the Haitian Association of Barbados wants provisions made for the group to live and work in Barbados as they called for a thorough investigation into the “very strange” circumstances under which they were allowed to enter the country.
One of the directors of the association, attorney-at-law Pearlie Drakes, said he was trying to locate the Haitians and find short-term accommodation for them simultaneously.
“I will assure you that under no circumstances will they be allowed to be on the streets or to be wandering about and not knowing exactly what they are going to do,” Drakes told Barbados TODAY.
On Tuesday, the group was evicted from three apartments they had been occupying since arriving here on February 20. Investigations by this newspaper revealed that each of the 34 Haitians had paid approximately US$4 000 to be transported from Haiti to Brazil, with in-transit stops in Barbados and Guyana.
Drakes confirmed that the landlord had been paid one month’s rent, a security deposit and utility payments by MPH, totaling BDS$23 000. He said the recently formed association, which has been providing supplies for the stranded Haitians, did not have the funds to foot the rental bill.
Minister Humphrey, whose portfolio includes the Welfare Department and the Child Care Board, said he had been liaising with officials from the Home Affairs Ministry.
“I am also aware that the Child Care Board has visited and is following up, particularly as it relates to children,” said Humphrey.
In a more detailed response, Ambassador Comissiong explained that the CARICOM nationals were only in the second month of their automatic six-month stay. He expressed confidence that the country’s welfare agencies would assist the visitors, but took umbrage to previous suggestions from migration expert Dr Olivia Smith and Reverend David Durant that authorities should respond to the case with alacrity and treat them as victims.
“These two experts seem to know virtually nothing about the situation that they are opining about. In fact, judging from their published comments, it does not appear that either one of them has even visited or spoken to the group of Haitians,” said the Ambassador.
“The travel agency that made the arrangements with the chartered plane that brought them to Barbados has a branch in Barbados, and this agency has assumed some local responsibility for the group of Haitians and is working on completing their travel arrangements.
“The Barbadian governmental authorities have not prescribed any course of action for the group of Haitians. At present, they are simply treating them as a group of CARICOM nationals who are in the country on a six month stay,” he added.
But from a legal perspective, Drakes identified a number of issues that raised serious questions about MPH and the Immigration Department.
The attorney said that even for CARICOM citizens who are generally entitled to an automatic six-month stay, immigration officials should be satisfied that the visitors are capable of maintaining themselves and/or that travel arrangements for their onward travel were in place.
“I think there are a lot of issues. First of all, there are questions about the kind of arrangement they had with the agency, where they were going and whether they had tickets for onward travel to another destination and those kinds of things. None of that is actually forthcoming,” he said.
“How did they get into Barbados if none of that was finalised and the Immigration authorities were not satisfied that they had all of the necessary paperwork that is required to allow them to come into Barbados in the first instance?”
What was particularly concerning, Drakes said, was that on previous occasions he had attempted to assist Haitians with visas to work in Barbados, but was “unhappy” with the responses from immigration officials.
“That is why I am questioning why a large group can come in and have that kind of entry into Barbados with so many questions hanging over the procedures that were taken. I know that as an association we have sought visas through the Immigration Department and it has been difficult and therefore it is very questionable as to how 34 – and I am also hearing many more – have been able to enter Barbados under very strange circumstances,” the lawyer said.
Drakes said the group of Haitians are seemingly trying to escape tremendous social, economic and political instability, and he urged Barbados to “step up to the plate” and assist them.
“My appeal would be largely to see how best our Haitian brothers and sisters can be assisted in this plight and, additionally, I would expect that, in due course, there would be a proper investigation as to how they got here in the first place, what were the plans for them, who was responsible and those kinds of things,” he said.
“I know the immigration authorities have a responsibility to answer those kinds of questions and not just try to put them on a plane and ask the agency that brought them in to send them back to Haiti. I don’t think that would be right at all, I don’t think it would be fair and it very well might be illegal.
“I am convinced that they can contribute to the Barbadian society and economy and it is on that basis largely that I would suggest that the officials look at how best we can incorporate these people, and I don’t think sending them back to Haiti with the difficulties that persist there now… would make any sense,” he added.
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