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Caribbean immigration: Politicians spar over treatment of Jamaican, Haitian nationals

Posted: Tuesday, April 18, 2023. 3:42 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: On Monday, Prime Minister John Briceño confirmed to reporters that no decision has yet been made on introducing potential restrictions for travel of Jamaican nationals, as Belize grapples with the emerging problem of Jamaican and Haitian nationals using Belize as a transit point to Mexico and ultimately the United States.

In an appearance on Channel 7 News’ morning program, the P.M. said it was a balance between encouraging travel from the Caribbean under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and ensuring that would-be refugees and asylum seekers did not open Belize up to claims of supporting trafficking in persons by the United States: “We signed onto the Treaty of Chaguaramas but we also have a responsibility first to Belize, we have not made a decision when it comes to Jamaica but I am glad that this discussion has come up because now in Jamaica, now they are starting to realize that there is a problem and so we at the end of the day, Jamaica protects the interest of Jamaica, Belize has to protect the interest of Belize.”

Last week, the Prime Minister mentioned that at some point during the Dean Barrow administration, Haitians were required to obtain visas to visit Belize – before the country’s current crisis and in violation of the Treaty. It was a move his administration reversed on taking office – but have been compelled to reverse again to avoid questions of trafficking in persons. In the case of Jamaica, there are similar concerns but not as serious as the Haiti situation and the leaders in Kingston and Belmopan continue to talk it out.

This was in response to the pronouncement of the Leader of the Opposition, Moses “Shyne” Barrow, that the Government risks running afoul of the Treaty if it imposes too severe restrictions on Jamaicans that would prevent their free movement.

Ministers Jose Abelardo Mai (Agriculture) and Dolores Balderamos-Garcia (Human Development) also weighed in, reiterating that the decision on Haiti solely addresses the trafficking in persons issue. Mai stated that it has no relation to any trade disputes with the Caribbean, while Balderamos-Garcia maintained “that where there is exploitation of people, we have a responsibility as a government to act. Now with the CARICOM rules of free movement, we have to invoke one of the clauses of the Treaty of Chaguaramas to make sure that we impose a visa requirement for Haitians because the vast majority of people being moved are Haitians… even though there is the principle of free movement of nationals throughout CARICOM, the news that we have for the leader of the opposition is that he has to wake up and smell the coffee of what is happening so that we don’t participate in this kind of human trafficking, as I have called it.”

 

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