I write to support APNU MP Deborah Backer’s recent call for the regularization of the backtrack operations between Suriname and Guyana.
Many people utilize the backtrack crossings because it saves them time, and they can move back and forth between the two countries quite quickly and with ease. Many Surinamese come to Guyana and Guyanese go to Surinam on business or for social get-togethers. Most visit each other‘s country without any criminal intention, and they should not be prosecuted for making the crossings, especially when jobs are created and businesses are making money.
As immigration and customs officials have pointed out, the authorities have closed their eyes to the crossings. Most of these crossings take place in broad daylight in the presence of police and government officials. Since nothing is done to stop the crossings, they are de facto legitimate and people should not be prosecuted if caught crossing the border without an official entry in a passport. Recently, I read of Surinamese being charged in Guyana (by magistrates) and fined for illegally crossing the border without presenting themselves to an immigration official. Some individuals who have crossed backtrack have been blackmailed with threats of being reported to immigration if they don’t give money to the blackmailers. When individuals don’t give in to the threats, they are reported to the authorities, have to pay fines and are subsequently deported. That is wrong. People should not be prosecuted for illegal crossings for such short stays. Many countries in South America (like Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, etc) allow their nationals to cross over and work in each other’s country without going through immigration or customs checkpoints. I did so between Argentina and Brazil and between Paraguay and Brazil as well as between Chile and Argentina and Uruguay and Argentina. These countries allow crossings because of benefits that accrue to the border towns.
The backtrack speedboat operations are convenient, fast and efficient (though admittedly have posed some dangers) as opposed to the official ferry traversing the border. People don’t like the long wait for the ferry to make the crossing. Government should enter into an agreement with Suriname to make these crossings legal so as to reduce the dangers arising out of them. Boats can be licensed just as they are in the Demerara Harbour. This will also help to bring in revenues benefiting both states.