The 8-month old Congress government in St. George’s is coming up against strong criticisms for its decision to turn away 15 Haitian nationals, who were attempting to gain access to the island through the Maurice Bishop International Airport (MBIA) on Sunday.
This comes as a growing number of Haitians seek refuge in other countries, amidst a continued spike in violence by uncontrollable gangs that have been killing, raping and pillaging in a growing number of neighbourhoods in the impoverished French speaking nation, which followed the July 2021 assassination of Haitian President, Jovenel Moise.
Barbadian Political Consultant, Peter Wickham, chimed in on this development on The Narrative programme, with host Calistra Farrier, hours after Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell confirmed during a special press conference in St. George’s on Monday, that the government was in the process of securing a flight to get the non-nationals out of the country.
“We in the region (have) been singing a tune about our regret regarding Haiti for many years but (are) we willing to put our money where our mouth is? That’s something that continues to disturb me,” commented Wickham, who has described the move by Congress as “the most recent incarnation of an appalling lack of sympathy and understanding towards Haiti and political refusal to see Haitians as our brothers and sisters in this regard.”
“One would have thought that because of the refugee situation that the attitude of the Grenada government would have been somewhat different but clearly the Prime Minister has other priorities…,” he said.
“You have one of the most active citizenship by investment programmes – people can come from all over and spend their money and buy citizenship but still a person who finds themselves in a bad situation cannot come to Grenada as a refugee, and apply, as such, I think that is a most disturbing and unfortunate reality,” he added.
Haiti is the only French speaking island that is a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and joined the group in 2002.
According to Wickham, although there is freedom of movement to some extent within CARICOM, under the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), Haiti is the only CARICOM territory against whom Visa restrictions are imposed.
“As far as Haiti is concerned, Barbados, and pretty much every other state has imposed Visa restrictions on Haitians and Dominicans, that require them to have a visa to travel to our countries even though there is supposed to be freedom of movement, and again it reflects the fact that we are only willing to sing the tune but we don’t wanna walk the walk,” he remarked.
Head of the Immigration Department, Supt. Leroy Joseph, said the group of Haitian nationals comprised seven (7) females and eight (8) males, who were not seeking asylum or refugee status on the island.
Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell, who is also the Minister for National Security and Immigration told reporters on Monday, that the Haitians who entered the country as tourists on a flight from Trinidad and Tobago were being sent back because Immigration Officers have determined that they will be a burden on the public purse.
“The immigration officers in their normal routine checks were able to ascertain, to make the determination that in fact, they will be a charge on the public purse if they were in fact permitted to enter the state.” Said Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell, who linked the decision to the amount of cash the Haitian nationals had in their possession on arrival.
The Grenadian leader pointed that because Haiti is a CARICOM member, there are very specific and limited grounds that can be used to prevent a CARICOM national from entering another member territory.
“One of which is a charge on the public purse, and the second will be, in broad terms, national security risk. In this case, it was purely on the basis of a charge on the public purse,” he told reporters.
PM Mitchell went on to say: “If you are not a citizen of Grenada and you come to Grenada, you can only be staying at a hotel for at least one night unless you have a friend or family, and in the absence of friends or family, it means that you have to be able to afford a hotel at least for one night, and if you don’t have cash or a credit card that allows you to afford a hotel for one night, it means you don’t have a place to stay, and if you don’t have a place to stay and we let you into our community what is going to happen? It means we as a state will have to take care of you.”
Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell, who travelled to The Bahamas on Tuesday to attend the 2-day 44th Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community in Nassau, told reporters that the issue of Haiti is among the subjects he intended to raise.
He also spoke of planning to raise the issue with the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, who was among the special guests attending the CARICOM meeting, which concludes today (Friday February 17).
Ottawa is facing pressure to do more to help the Haitian people.
Wickham believes that the Grenadian leader may have missed an opportunity to stand on the world stage on this issue.
“So, you’re criticising Canada for not assisting…to say that we need to have a plan to assist Haiti but yet still in your own respect you can’t find opportunities for these people that turn up on your shores…I think that he (PM Mitchell) has missed an opportunity to be able to speak from a position of saying, look, I have acted in my own way, and I expect you to do the same…,” he said.
“…So, we continue to say that Haiti is a Caribbean country (and) should be our domain but yet still we don’t seem to understand that we have an obligation to do whatsoever little we can, in the context of the resources that we have available to us, to assist Haiti in that regard,” he added.