by Kevon Browne
St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): The Premier of Nevis, Hon. Mark Brantley said that he welcomes more debate on the Haitian migration situation the region is facing as the CARICOM country grapples with gang violence, health crises, economic turmoil and political instability, as it is not attracting sufficient attention.
“By all accounts, the situation in Haiti has deteriorated badly. And the suggestion now is the armed gangs are in control of most of Haiti – to the north, to the south and in the centre, I’m told, are largely controlled by criminal gangs. The government, therefore, there has lost much of the control of the territory of Haiti, and the institutions naturally will suffer as a result. I recognise that at CARICOM’s recent meeting in the Bahamas that Haiti did occupy some time on the agenda, and I welcome that, and I say that as the Premier of Nevis and as a Federal representative on the opposition benches federally, that it is important that we as a region pay close, critical, and urgent attention to the situation in Haiti.”
The Premier raised concern about the size of the population of Haiti – 11 Million – as compared to other Caribbean territories like Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago, both with populations under 3 million. The Premier asked the listening audience to envisage an influx of 10,000 Haitians to Nevis and what that may do to the country.
“I shudder to think, members of the press, how a small island like Nevis or small country like St. Kitts and Nevis – a microstate – will be able to cope with even an influx of say 10,000 people; think about our schools, our health sector, our housing sector, our social services. We have had, for example, since this boat came ashore here in Nevis 13 or so, brothers and sisters from Haiti being housed at the community centre in Hanley’s Road, and we had, of course, to feed them and to take care of them. The cost keeps escalating daily, and that’s only 13 people.”
Brantley continues, “So I feel that there is a clear and present danger that if the situation in Haiti is not addressed, and Haitians, like people the world over, decide to move – that’s what we’ve seen in Syria. We have seen it in parts of Africa. We’ve seen it everywhere in the world, where there is crisis, people seek safety, people flee – and if that happens, we have the potential for millions of [people] to be seeking to flee Haiti and find comfort and find support someplace else.”
The Premier’s statement comes on the heels of an ongoing court case involving 13 immigrants that reportedly entered Nevis illegally on February 3 and were set to be repatriated to Haiti by the government of St. Kitts and Nevis. The 13 were spared repatriation after an injunction was filed with the courts (see more here).
Brantley said he was concerned about what would happen if the court rules to grant Haitians asylum based on the country’s CARICOM status as Haiti grapples with unrest.
“The reason why I think this case is such an important case to watch is because if the court were to rule that yes, these individuals, once they arrive here, are entitled either to asylum or are entitled to stay here based on their CARICOM status, or for whatever other reason – it potentially can send a message to others that listen once you come, you will be welcomed and accepted.”
Despite his concerns, the Premier said he welcomes the debate on the movement of Haitians throughout the region as the country goes through a time of instability.
One of the agreements of the CARICOM heads during the conference held in the Bahamas in mid-February was to visit the country.
A delegation from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) visited Haiti to assess the situation through talks with Prime Minister Ariel Henry, officials, senior police officers, politicians, and social leaders.
The CARICOM delegation comprised ministers from the Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago and representatives of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The region’s leaders decided to play a leading role in confronting insecurity in Haiti but stopped short of sending troops.