Guyana, and, in particular successive PPP/C administrations, has always had a friendly, open and liberal immigration policy. With a small population and limited skills base, the PPP/C was open to new skills and investments coming to Guyana. There has never been any quota system, or differentiation, whether based on nationality, ethnicity, class, religion, or gender, of visitors or persons wishing to study, work, vacation, shop or invest in our country. Guyana has prided itself, as a signatory to the CARICOM Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, of treating CARICOM nationals entering Guyana better than the treatment Guyanese have encountered in some CARICOM countries.
However, the Minister of Citizenship, on July 27th and August 3, 2016, was questioned by the Parliamentary Sectoral Committee on Foreign Relations with regards to the reasons for the denial of entry to 168 CARICOM Nationals to Guyana in the preceding 12 months. In the light of the Freedom of Movement of People and Skills in CARICOM, this was of some concern to the Committee. The Minister, in responding, advised that those persons, who were denied entry, did not have “sufficient funds” to support themselves whilst in Guyana. His response and recommendations of the Committee were included in its Fourth Periodic Report adopted in the National Assembly on February 9, 2017. None of those recommendations has thus far been implemented.
Over the last eight months, the PPP has repeatedly referred at various press conferences about information it has been receiving with regard to the large numbers of Haitian nationals who are being met airside when they land at Cheddi Jagan International Airport and escorted through the immigration process to waiting vehicles. There are suspicions that Haitians are being trafficked through Guyana, but, there appears to be an additional twist to the story. More information is surfacing that in return for their “safe passage” through Guyana, they are required and are facilitated in obtaining Guyanese identity documents such as birth certificates, national identity cards, with Guyanese names, which are then left in Guyana, after they depart. For what purpose one may wonder and who is behind this?
As a result, the PPP/C Members of the same Parliamentary Committee, raised concerns with regards to the Haitian arrivals and trafficking. The Committee then sought information from Minister Felix in February 2018, about the number of Haitians entering and departing Guyana. The Minister in his response to the Committee on May 23, 2018, provided information on the arrival and departures of Haitians and seven other nationalities entering annually for the years 2013- 2018 (April).
Of interest the Minister did not provide figures for CARICOM nationals, nor other countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, USA, Canada, UK, etc., whose citizens also enter Guyana for work or study.
When one analyzes these figures the following comparative breakdown makes the trends more visible:-
In total as of April 2018, according to the figures supplied, Table 3 shows the numbers who appear to have not left Guyana:-
These figures reveal that the years 2016 and 2017 show the highest upsurge in numbers of arrivals of several nationalities. Since the Minister did not provide any information on those who were denied entry, one assumes that these arrival figures are, in fact, persons who entered Guyana. In contrast to the years 2015-2016, where 168 CARICOM nationals were refused entry due to lack of “sufficient funds”, one has to ask if all of these people listed by Minister Felix arrived with “sufficient funds”?
Unlike what has been popularly conveyed for years by the PNCR, and then the APNU and AFC in opposition, and, now in the APNU+AFC in government, that Brazilians, Chinese, Indians and more recently, Venezuelans were flooding in and taking over, the truth is far different when one examines these figures for 2013-2015 and 2015-2018.
True to form, Minister Henry, during the discussion in the committee with regards to these figures and links to human trafficking, pointed rather ridiculously to the high non-departures of Bangladeshis compared to the Haitians.
However, we cannot find any evidence of the presence of such a large number of 5, 485 Haitians, nor of 17,615 Cubans, in Guyana. Twenty-three thousand people who speak different languages in a small population such as ours would be easily discernible.
Therefore something is going on. The most logical explanation is that Guyana is being used as a transshipment point for a large and well-organised human trafficking ring, on a scale only possible with the collaboration of key officials within the government. Based on these figures, these victims of human trafficking , may not only include Haitians, but also other nationalities.
However, the additional information that one of the nationalities, in this case Haitians, is being used to create new identities with Guyanese birth certificates is also of great significance as our nation prepares for the 2018 Local Government and 2020 general and regional elections. If new identities are being created then why are these documents not being used by the Haitians for their onward movement? Why are these documents being kept with their handlers based in Guyana? For what purpose? Is this to be used to register new voters? And whose identities are they using? Persons who have died or who have emigrated whose names are already on the national registration data base and the voters lists?
The champion of TIPs in Guyana, Minister Broomes, who received a US Presidential Award for her work in exposing cases of TIPs, appears to be rather quiet now. The Ministerial Task Force on TIPs 2017 records figures of cases of human trafficking being prosecuted but all of the victims are Guyanese.
However, the disinterest of the government in addressing the concerns publicly expressed months ago by the Leader of the Opposition of human trafficking of Haitians may in itself be a telling indictment.
Where there is smoke there is fire and the information regarding the Haitians as possible victims of human trafficking linked to another agenda by government officials cannot be ignored. This issue demands a full investigation.
It is time for the international community, including the relevant UN bodies and the IOM, as well as the diplomatic community to pay closer attention to this development. The annual US TIPs report placed Guyana on the watch list for two years in a row because there were too few cases of human trafficking in 2006-2013. I hope that the US officials will pay more interest to this unusual movement of unaccounted people through and in Guyana.
Gail Teixeira, M.P.