Leaving one’s homeland to seek fortune in greener pastures abroad is a dream shared by millions the world over, especially in poorer countries whose poor seek a better life.
Many are willing to take advantage of any work opportunity presented to them, either by word of mouth or media. Once they settle in, stay on the right side of the law and claim their host’s citizenship, they send for their families to enjoy the benefits, rights and privileges the new homeland offers.
Sadly, for many, this dream becomes a nightmare as they fall prey to con artists who entice them to invest their life savings, with promises of a passage to new jobs and homes. They land in the country only to find there are no jobs but the most menial, and they end up relying on the generosity of local organizations and individuals until they are deported.
Then they start all over again.
Such is the plight of 15 Haitian young men between the ages of 21 and 36 who are currently stranded in Barbados after coming here between November and December last year on a promise that of accommodation and work.
Their predicament is said to have arisen following a CARICOM decision in July last year to allow nationals Haiti – a CARICOM member state – to travel to Barbados and other fellow states without requiring a visa – ending an unseemly but persistent violation of the CARICOM Treaty.
We accept the likelihood that relaxing visa requirements was misconstrued to mean freedom to work once they landed here, but as our Ambassador to CARICOM David Comissiong spelled out: “The new CARICOM regulations only state that Haitians will no longer need visas to travel to other CARICOM countries. So when they land, the Immigration officials now have to put a six-month stamp on their passports. Unfortunately, unscrupulous businessmen in both Haiti and the neighbouring Dominican Republic have been selling Haitians the idea that if they spend between US$2,500 and US$3,000 with them, they can guarantee them accommodation and jobs in Barbados. However, the infrastructure governing freedom of movement of labour under the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) has not yet been put in place for Haiti, so legally they are not entitled to work here.”
He further called on the Haitian government to clarify the visa requirement for its people. “I am trying as much as I can to urge the Haitian authorities to give their people the correct information on the visa requirements as a matter of urgency, because we have this regrettable situation where a number of Haitians are coming to Barbados believing they are free to work, and that there are jobs readily available when this is not the case. I have been communicating with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Haitian Ambassador to CARICOM, and Barbados’ Honorary Consul to Haiti about setting up a public information campaign on this issue. We might end up with more situations like this if the correct information does not get to the Haitian people.”
Reverend Dr. David Durant of Restoration Ministries, who came to the rescue of the Haitian immigrants after they were evicted from a house near to his Brittons Hill church, said: “I am hoping that the Haitian government will do something to stamp out scams of this nature so that young people will not be victimized like this. People do not need to be placed in a position where they take up all their savings or borrow money to put into the hands of people who promise them things that do not exist.”
The majority of Haitians who flee their homeland tend to head north to the much larger and wealthier United States, where many of them have worked diligently and have made good lives for themselves over the years. But recent immigration policies under the Trump administration may have influenced their choice to stay within the Caribbean. But who told them about the “opportunities for work” in Barbados? Was it merely word of mouth or did they see an advertisement somewhere? Were there names and contact information for the so-called agencies involved? Whom did they pay their money to? Who were the companies or individuals in Barbados they were supposed to contact about jobs?
Desperation often gets the better of people who long for a better life; they jump at the first opportunity that looks good on paper.
If the Haitian government does indeed launch a public information campaign, it should also encourage people to exercise due diligence. They ought to ensure they have all the relevant contact information for these self-proclaimed recruiters, do background checks to determine whether the parties involved are legitimate, and report any questionable recruitment agencies to the authorities before shelling out hard-earned cash to wind up stranded in a strange country with no visible means of support.
The bitter lesson for these hapless Haitians is one our own folk should heed. Many have been liberal with scorn and derision on poor people seeking a better life yet think nothing of their own illicit entry into richer host nations, eager to perform any menial task, endure any hardship and accept any degradation – for the sake of landing on greener pastures.