PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti, CMC – Head of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Representation Office in Haiti, Ambassador Earl Huntley, says Haitians may have a valid case if they go before the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) challenging the need for a visa to visit member CARICOM countries.
“In fact I suspect that if they were to the challenge this at the CCJ in terms of the treaty they could probably win it,” Huntley said.
Despite becoming a full member of the 15-member regional integration grouping in 2002 as well as being a signatory to the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) in 2006, Haitians have had to obtain a visa to travel within CARICOM member states.
“It is a manifestation of the attitude towards Haitians, The countries with visas have implemented this to keep out an invasion of Haitians. But if Haitians wanted to go to all the other islands they would find a way as you see now in with the boat people going to the coast of Jamaica,” Huntley said on a radio programme.
He said if the visa restrictions were removed there would not be a mass exodus of Haitians, adding that CARICOM must find a way to deal with the restrictions on the movement of Haitians within member states.
CARICOM leaders are due to meet in Port au Prince later this month for their annual Inter-sessional summit. Haiti’s President Michel Martelly has from January 1, this year, taken over the chairmanship of the regional grouping for a six month period.
Meanwhile, human rights lawyer, Nancy Anderson, who handles the cases of Haitians who have been denied asylum status and wish to appeal, said Haitians are not treated fairly.
Jamaica adheres to the UN Convention on Refugees, however the majority of Haitians would not qualify for refugee status as victims of persecution, as they primarily leave for economic reasons.
Anderson said Haitians are not allowed to speak with attorneys before they are denied refugee status and given the language barrier, they should be given representation and advised of what to apply for in seeking refugee status.
“They were kept in Montego Bay at a large camp, they were not allowed to come to Kingston to hear the appeals that were made on their behalf…they were being held as though they were prisoners when they were seeking refugee status.
“Other people have come to Jamaica seeking refugee states and they were not held in prison while waiting on their appeals to be heard” Anderson said.
Last week, Jamaica returned 25 Haitians to their homeland even as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, (UNHCR) appealed to Caribbean governments not to send home Cubans or Haitians rescued at sea, before determining whether they would face persecution.