Diaspora

Turks and Caicos under strain after 275 Haitian migrants recently detained – The Guardian

Governor says resources are stretched after three overloaded boats were intercepted between 23 December and 2 January
Authorities in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) say that law enforcement and immigration resources have been put under strain after nearly 300 Haitian migrants were intercepted in the Caribbean territory’s waters.
Three overloaded boats carrying 275 men, women and children were detained near the small self-governing British territory between 23 December and 2 January.
“With elongated maritime borders our resources are stretched because a small island state in the end will only have so much capacity or capability it can deploy,” said the TCI governor, Nigel Dakin.
The vessels had travelled more than 140 miles (226km) over several days from Haiti, where escalating gang wars have driven a recent wave of emigration.
The boat’s passengers were given a medical examination before being taken to TCI’s detention centre where they were held for several days.
As of Tuesday, 3 January, 184 people had been repatriated to Haiti, the immigration director, Sharlene Richards, told the Guardian. She declined to say how many were seeking asylum.
Haiti, the most highly populated independent country in the Caribbean and the poorest in the western hemisphere, has for decades been plagued by violence, natural disasters and political instability.
But the country has plunged deeper into political and economic uncertainty amid fierce gang wars following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021.
A joint statement from UN human rights organisations at the end of 2021 said the “complex social, economic, humanitarian and political situation” led to population movement.
It added that those seeking a better life abroad include unaccompanied and separated children, victims of trafficking, and survivors of gender-based violence.
Due to its proximity and standard of living, the TCI archipelago, an upmarket holiday hotspot in the northern Caribbean, has been a choice destination for many seeking a better life.
“Haiti bears down on TCI,” said Dakin, a UK-appointed official who is responsible for the territory’s internal and external security.
“Not deliberately – the Haitian people have no ill will towards us, quite the opposite. But they are 11 million and we are 50,000: 220 times our size.”
On the evening of 23 December, the Royal TCI police force marine branch intercepted the first boat off West Harbour Bluff following a detection report from the TCI’s radar station.
TCI regiment and immigration officers safely detained 52 people who were onboard the open wooden boat.
The second boat, a trading vessel named Family Express, was intercepted on Christmas Day, carrying 95 people.
The US Department of Homeland Security and Homeland Security Investigations, which has agents temporarily based in the TCI, are supporting an investigation into the boat crossing.
In the third incident, marine officers intercepted a Haitian boat two miles off South Dock early on 2 January.
At about 1am, they detained 128 people, including four women and a child.
In a statement following the Christmas Day arrival, immigration minister Arlington Musgrove said the TCI government retains a “clear zero-tolerance approach” to people smugglers.
He said law enforcement authorities will “continue to crack down, disrupt networks and prosecute persons involved in the smuggling of illegal migrants”.
In his new year’s message TCI’s premier, Washington Misick, spoke of an increased focus on immigration over the past few months and in the coming year.
“We have increased our aerial and sea surveillance to further harden our borders,” he said.
“A shiprider agreement with the Bahamas allows Turks and Caicos Islands’ personnel on Bahamian vessels to give us better surveillance of our territorial waters.”
He added that the territory’s immigration laws will be amended in 2023.
“Anyone caught breaking the law will face stiffer penalties including the revocation of permanent residency certificates and status.”

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