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Discussion heightens on probability of human trafficking or a migrant smuggling ring in the region

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by Eulana Weekes

St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): Commissioner of Police in the Royal St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force, Mr James Sutton, says a regional approach is being taken to address the matter of the illegal movement of people throughout the Caribbean.

“In regards to your question about illegal immigration, I would not say human trafficking. That is something that is permeating across the Caribbean. What we realise is that these persons are travelling in small numbers, with the use of our fishermen, so it makes it difficult for law enforcement to zero in on this type of trafficking or smuggling or movement of persons, but we are working in partnership at a regional level to address this problem, because we do not want it to escalate any further, or persons within the criminal organisation to be profiting from such activities. So it is being looked at from a regional level and also at a local level.”

The Commissioner responded to a question posed by WINN FM at the Police Press Conference on Tuesday afternoon (May 28), “Is there any evidence of a human trafficking or smuggling ring in the region?”

The question was raised, following a recent boating tragedy that occurred at about 20 nautical miles off the Coast of Conaree, St. Kitts, on Tuesday morning, March 28, 2023.

A vessel capsized whilst transporting 32 individuals, Cameroon natives, an Antigua native, as well as a Spaniard from the Dominican Republic who resides in Antigua, resulting in the loss of lives. The St. Kitts-Nevis Coast Guard rescued sixteen passengers while the search continued for several missing individuals. Police confirmed that the boat left the island of Antigua, destined for the Virgin Islands.

In a statement, Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Bowne, in a statement, confirmed that the boat left Antigua illegally, and investigations are underway.

“On behalf of my government and myself, I express deep sorrow at the loss of life and distress suffered by persons aboard a vessel which left Antigua and Barbuda illegally [on] Tuesday, 28 March, for an unknown destination, and which capsized in the open sea.

While reports are still sketchy, we understand that the majority of persons on board the vessel may be Africans who were part of those who arrived here as tourists but with the intention of migrating to other countries.”

Browne said, “It is widely known that my Government has been making every effort to be helpful to these brothers and sisters from Africa who were marooned on Antigua, including by granting them residence and the opportunity to work. We have also been engaged with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the International Organisation for Migration on the best ways of treating them as refugees.

Two things appear clear from today’s tragic events. The first is that the Africans on board the vessel wanted to leave Antigua and Barbuda for another country.  The second is that the owners and operators of a vessel in Antigua and Barbuda facilitated their transport on an illegal journey. My government will launch a full investigation into the circumstances of this unlawful and dreadful affair, including the involvement of any citizens and residents. We will also uphold our international obligations against human trafficking and illegal migration by strengthening our domestic institutions and enhancing our cooperation with regional and hemispheric partners.”

Prime Minister Browne added that the Government of Antigua and Barbuda will continue to offer refuge in the country to the survivors of the boating incident and will make the necessary arrangements for the burial of the deceased. Browne also said that his Government will be making an effort to contact the relatives of the deceased to advise them of the “heartbreaking tragedy.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Browne made an appeal to the Africans, who are in Antigua and Barbuda, to not be tempted into any schemes such as what transpired on Tuesday morning, March 28, but admonished them to work with the Government through the Immigration Department to find acceptable solutions to their circumstances.

Currently, a group of 16 individuals who were rescued at sea is housed at the St. Peters Community Center, while the bodies of three deceased individuals were taken to the Sadler Funeral Home, Sandy Point.

Prior to the tragic incident at sea, on February 02, 2023, 15 Haitians were intercepted by Police after docking at Gallows Bay, Nevis. Among them was a Dominican captain, Danny Henry, who exited the vessel and entered Bath Village with a Haitian passenger. The Dominican was convicted and sentenced on March 15. He was sentenced to six months imprisonment for entering a port that is not a formal port, 12 months imprisonment for entering the Federation without the consent of an immigration officer and required to pay $5,000 in six months on Customs charges or face six months in prison.

Whilst all others were housed at the Hanley’s Road Community Center, Nevis, before being transferred to the St. Johnston Community Center, St. Kitts. They remain there pending the results of Asylum requests.

Previously, 17 Haitians entered Nevis illegally on January 02, 2022, via a boat that allegedly ran aground at Bath Village. Police, however, were in search of five individuals. Details about that situation are a bit sketchy.

However, questions remain about the probability of human smuggling or human trafficking in the region and how the region should respond to curb the issue.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “Human trafficking involves the recruitment, movement or harbouring of people for the purpose of exploitation – such as sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery or organ removal. Victims can be children or adults, boys, girls, men or women, and are trafficked by the use of improper means such as the threat or use of force, fraudulent schemes, deception, or abuse of power. It can occur within a country or across borders.”

In addition, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said, “In contrast to human trafficking, which can take place both domestically and internationally, migrant smuggling is a crime that takes place only across borders. It consists in assisting migrants to enter or stay in a country illegally for financial or material gain. Smugglers make a profitable business out of migrants’ need and/or desire to enter a country and the lack of legal documents to do so. International law requires governments to criminalise migrant smuggling, but not those who are smuggled. Since migrants give their consent to the smuggling venture, mostly due to the lack of regular ways to migrate, they are not considered victims in absolute terms. However, smuggled migrants are often put in dangerous situations by smugglers (such as hazardous sea crossings), and might therefore become victims of other crimes during the smuggling process, including severe human rights violations.”

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