After years of exclusion and discrimination against French-speaking neighbor Haiti, Barbados is still going through “teething pains” as it finally opens its doors to Haitian travellers, according to Barbados’ Ambassador to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) David Comissiong.
Comissiong was reacting to reports over the weekend that two Haitians from a group of eleven eluded immigration officials after being refused entry and detained at the Grantley Adams International Airport.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY, he revealed that ever since Government removed “illegal” visa requirements for citizens of the fellow CARICOM member state entering Barbados, the country has been attracting a growing number of Haitians to its shores.
“It’s like when something was bottled up for a long time and you suddenly move that obstruction. The water rushes through. So, it will probably take us a little time to get all the teething problems sorted out in relation to Haitians travelling within the region,” he said of the current wave of migration.
While it’s much easier now for Haitians to explore the region, not all are entitled to free entry. As Comissiong explained, immigration may refuse entry to any CARICOM citizen if considered a threat to national security due to criminal convictions or if the visitor does not have enough money to reasonably maintain themselves.
But he says Barbadians need not panic because very few of the Haitians flocking to the country are criminals.
“To the best of my knowledge, no one has been refused entry on the basis of they being a criminal threat. To the best of my knowledge, all of the persons who have been refused entry, have been refused entry on the ground of their not having the financial resources to properly maintain themselves in Barbados during their visit here,” conditions which he says apply to all CARICOM citizens.
“Haitians are part of the family. When we say Haitians, we could just as easily say CARICOM nationals, because the same rules that apply to Haitians apply to Trinidadians, St Lucians, to Bajans, to all of us. We are all subject to the same rules and regulations.
A memory not far from the minds of Barbadians is the October 2013 Caribbean Court of Justice award to a Jamaican, Shanique Myrie, close to $80,000 in damages after she successfully sued the Barbados Government claiming that on March 14, 2011, she was made to undergo a painful and humiliating body cavity search by border officials on her arrival at the Grantley Adams International Airport. She was subsequently deported.
According to Comissiong, the case has since been very important in outlining the rights and obligations of CARICOM nationals travelling within the region.
“We have a much better understanding right across CARICOM now as to what the rules are and how persons are to be treated.”
Amid the migration, Comissiong also called on Haitian officials to better educate their people on how they can become suited for service in the regional community.
“Having discriminated against Haiti so long, we now have to work with Haiti and make sure they put all the proper measures in place.
“They’re entitled to travel but they probably, in Haiti need to pay more attention to the CARICOM Skilled National Programme… because many CARICOM countries, I believe would welcome Haitians who have skills that we need – but I know this is a work in progress.”