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Haitian group who arrived a month ago still waiting for visas to enter Guyana

by Barbados Today
7 min read

Immigration officials are investigating the conditions under which a group of Haitian visitors, including several small children, are being housed in the basement of a property at Wanstead Gardens, St James.

A joint immigration and police operation was conducted at the apartment complex on Monday, but officials said they could not disclose the nature of the investigation despite concerns from residents about what in their opinion, appears to be a potentially dangerous situation.

Barbados TODAY investigations, however, revealed that the approximately 33 Haitians who arrived on February 20 through a travel agency, were granted in-transit visas to be in Barbados for 15 days, on a journey ultimately bound for Guyana and/or Brazil.

The agency was reportedly paid undisclosed sums of money to acquire airline tickets, travel visas and other essentials for the Haitians, who are said to be fleeing social, economic and political instability in their home country.

But they have overstayed their welcome with no definitive word on if or when they will be continuing their journey.

“It is an ongoing investigation and I am sure that you can appreciate that I won’t be able to speak to the matter until it is completed,” said Acting Chief Immigration Officer Margaret Inniss.

There was no response to a request for comment from the Barbados Police Service.

The Haitians are staying at a gated, three-storey house with metal bars. The landlord is said to be staying on the third floor, a Barbadian tenant and some Haitians on the floor below in separate two-bedroom apartments, and the others in the basement apartment.

On Thursday, a handful of people trickled in and out of the house and when approached by Barbados TODAY they confirmed their nationality. Though they spoke fluent English at the start of the conversation, they declined to answer questions about their situation.

“Are you guys doing okay and do you have concerns about your current situation?” asked Barbados TODAY.

“I don’t speak English,” one of the visitors replied.

He was with a woman who was silent and the two quickly walked away.

Two men walking toward the house had a similar response when questioned about their travel and living arrangements.

“We don’t speak English.”

Barbados’ Ambassador to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) David Comissiong, after making some inquiries, revealed that the group’s in-transit visas in Barbados had expired but their visas for passage to Guyana had not been approved.

He also revealed that an agency called MPH was managing all of the group’s travel arrangements.

“What I gather is that these folks are in transit to Guyana and it seems as if they are people who paid money – and I gathered that the name of the agency is MPH – to get them to Guyana and that they are upset about, I think, the amount of time that they are spending in Barbados and not knowing when they will be taken to Guyana,” Ambassador Comissiong related.

There is an MPH Travel Agency, on Facebook, claiming to be based in Segovia, Spain. However, all the posts are written in Haitian creole. In the comments section were a number of people complaining about being stranded in Barbados and/or about having to pay more money than was originally agreed for passage into Guyana.

“Money is taking a hit,” said Akotchat Dante in a post translated to English.

“Our money is finished, we are on this trip,” said a Jacob Esterlin. “I never thought that after spending so much money . . . MPH can’t put a Guyana visa and plane ticket to enter Guyana.”

Comissiong said it was unclear exactly how much money had been spent on the promised trip to Guyana.

The ambassador admitted to having concerns in the past about some agencies taking money from Haitians and bringing them to Barbados with the promise of jobs that they could not deliver.

People living in nearby houses said the Haitians in the mostly quiet neighbourhood stood out as they traversed the usually empty streets speaking creole.

“I don’t know who they are, where they are going and I don’t know their names. I just know they aren’t from here. I think there is a baby in the group,” one resident told Barbados TODAY.

Another resident recalled the Sunday when two vans with ‘ZM’ licence plates brought the Haitians to stay.

“I counted at least 30. It’s only in recent times I got a more accurate number – 33,” said the resident of 25 years.

“There are children there who could be as young as three or four years old.… I think the authorities should at least look into it for the children’s sake because I suspect that the parents of the children might not even be there. The way that you see them interacting it doesn’t look like they are parents. If the parents of those children are not there, that makes it even worse,” the resident added.

Some residents made calls to the Immigration Department, Child Care Board and even the COVID-19 Monitoring Unit, expressing concern that so many people were being housed in such an enclosed space.

“At any one point I counted six [children] together and you might even find others that look a little older that might be minors,” said one neighbour.

“You cannot tell me in 2022 that you could have 33 people staying in a room and we have no protocols, rules or regulations saying that something about that is wrong, when a few weeks ago the Prime Minister and the Minister of Housing were in the news saying that government units are overcrowded because there are 15 people living in there.

“It cannot be right. If two or four people had come to stay, that is not alarming but when you are bringing in 33 . . . you cannot encourage that,” the source added.

But even after the joint operation on Monday, the situation remained unchanged on Thursday evening, except that the Haitians’ outside activities appeared to be more limited, according to residents.

On Monday when Barbados TODAY first visited the area, moments after the operation, two women – one of them elderly – warned the news team to stay away from the premises. The younger of the two said she was a “government worker”, that cameras were “everywhere” and that there would be consequences if an article appeared in the news.

Neighbours later said that the older woman was the landlord and the younger woman her niece.

While the Haitians are said to be hesitant to disclose the circumstances under which they are being held, some residents reported receiving complaints that life was becoming difficult and that they didn’t have enough food.

The source said the people “who seem to be in charge” would occasionally bring food, gas bottles and other supplies for the visitors.

Eyewitnesses said Monday’s operation, which continued for a few hours, involved seven officials with two buses and one jeep.

Some of the Haitians are said to have scampered into the nearby bushes.

For several months, reports out of the Northern Caribbean, Central America and North America suggested a sharp increase in the number of Haitians risking their lives to leave their homeland.

Last year, officials in Guyana reported that a total of 42 100 Haitians arrived there between 2015 and 2021 but only 3,913 are recorded as having departed.

It meant that a total of 38,187 Haitians were unaccounted for but authorities at the time did not believe they were still in Guyana, raising suspicion that the South American country was a major transshipment point for human trafficking.

The Government later banned Haitians from visa-free travel to Guyana.

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