News & Current Affairs, CARICOM Affairs - Friday, January 15, 2010 16:44
Caribbean islands prepare to take in Haitian refugeesBy Antillean, News Desk
Several Caribbean nations are bracing for an influx of Haitians fleeing their earthquake-hit country, with some already preparing to house, clothe and feed them, whether they enter legally or not.
Some expect to see an increase in Haitians entering their countries as they seek an escape from the death and devastation brought on the already impoverished nation by Tuesday’s 7.0 magnitude earthquake.
In the Bahamas, Director of Immigration Jack Thompson has confirmed that a hold has been placed on the repatriation of Haitians who have entered the country illegally.
“We have no intentions of repatriating the Haitians at the Detention Centre at this time given the extent of the devastation in Haiti,” said Thompson.
In fact, on the morning after the earthquake, a flight that was scheduled to repatriate 72 Haitians was cancelled.
Officials say that Inagua, the closest of the Bahamas islands to Haiti, is likely to be the first affected by Haitians fleeing the devastation.
Thompson said the Immigration Department is therefore preparing to send tents, bedding, food and additional personnel to Inagua. Two Immigration Officers, 50 Defence Force Officers, eight police officers and a Red Cross team are stationed on the island.
“We are in the advanced stages of having Inagua in a state of readiness in the event we need to move in that direction,” he said.
Additionally, the Detention Centre in New Providence is being put “in a state of readiness” with tents, portable toilets, bedding and food.
“We want to be ready,” Thompson said. “We take this very seriously. We want to ensure that we are prepared and we are ready.”
Over in Jamaica, coastal surveillance for asylum seekers has begun offshore the parishes of Portland – one of the island’s nearest points to Haiti – and St Marys, and preparations have been put in place to “receive, screen and treat” those who come over.
Ministry of National Security Richard Reese also told the Jamaica Observer newspaper that a facility has already been identified to house Haitians likely to seek refuge here, although he did not disclose the location.
Additionally, Director of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in Jamaica Wenford Henry said that organisation is also preparing to help Haitians who come to the island.
“Our members in Portland and St Thomas are mobilised, and we are making our facilities available just in case we need to house anybody and care for them,” he said.
Meantime, the Dominica government has announced that the stay of all Haitians already in the island will be automatically extended, regardless of their current status.
“We decided…that nationals of Haiti who are on island or whose stay may have already expired, or is soon to expire, or who may have arrived here in an irregular way without the proper documentation, that we will extend their stay for a further six months,” National Security and Immigration Minister Charles Savarin told a press conference yesterday.
“Nobody needs to be in hiding. Nobody needs to fail to contact their people overseas because they fear that if immigration were to find them that they would be sent home with nowhere to go because there is now no home in Haiti,” he added.
Countries across the region have been playing their part to help the disaster-struck Haiti since Tuesday’s quake, offering aid in various forms to their Caribbean brothers and sisters. (C360)
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