Caribbean leaders to tackle Haiti’s woes amid migration

A three-day meeting of the Caribbean trade block known as Caricom starts Wednesday in the Bahamas.

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Top Caribbean leaders are expected to debate Haiti’s spiraling chaos and its impact on the region during a biannual meeting this week, with some complaining bitterly about a constant stream of migrants arriving on their shores as they flee poverty and worsening violence.

The three-day meeting of the Caribbean trade block known as Caricom starts Wednesday in the Bahamas. 

Some of the group’s 15 members are pushing to get key Haitian stakeholders to a neutral nation in the region to reach a consensus agreement on holding elections in the impoverished country that has been stripped of all democratically elected institutions.

However, the international community and local officials have noted that elections cannot be held in Haiti until violence is quelled.

CARICOM flag at a negotiating table (Adobe Stock)

Haiti’s foreign minister, Jean Victor Généus, warned during an Organization of American States meeting Friday that insecurity has risen and will spill over into neighboring countries.

“We must absolutely tackle this problem in Haiti because no one else in the Caribbean will be spared,” he said.

The Caricom meeting will be hosted by Bahamian Prime Minister Philip Davis, who has persistently complained about the cost of repatriating thousands of Haitians as well as hundreds of Cubans in the past year. He says Caricom needs to help find a solution to Haiti’s security, political and economic crisis.

Violence has soared in Haiti as poverty and hunger deepens, with gangs growing more powerful since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. The number of reported kidnappings rose to more than 1,200 last year, more than double what was reported the previous year. Meanwhile, 1,200 killings were reported last year, an increase of 35% compared with the previous year, according to the U.N.

The violence, coupled with double-digit inflation, has prompted thousands to flee Haiti to neighboring Caribbean islands, with many seeking to eventually reach the U.S. Dozens have died in such attempts as they cram into rickety boats captained by human smugglers.

The International Organization for Migration announced last month that it documented at least 321 migrant deaths and disappearances in the Caribbean last year, the highest number recorded since 2014 and a spike compared with the 180 deaths registered in 2021. 

Last year, the Bahamas repatriated nearly 5,000 migrants, the majority of them Haitians. In January, the government sent home 570 migrants, of whom 368 were Haitians. The government of the Turks & Caicos Islands intercepted more than 3,000 such migrants last year.

In late January, the Bahamian government announced that no new work permit applications for Haitians would be processed until authorities could better authenticate documents issued by Haiti’s government. Also that month, the Turks & Caicos government approved a six-month moratorium on visitor visas for Haitians.

Both governments have complained about an increase in migrant shantytowns and on spending related to patrolling waters surrounding both archipelagos.

“There is no question as to whether Haiti will be discussed” at this week’s meeting, Caricom spokesman Leonard Robertson said. “Haiti has been at the front and center of the community’s interest and agenda.”

National police control security on a street in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023. One of Haiti’s gangs stormed a key part of the capital, Port-Au-Prince, and battled with police throughout the day, leaving at least three officers dead and another missing. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

Critics say Caricom has failed to produce a more managed approach to Haiti’s situation.

“We are either all brothers on one ship or not,” said Mark Kirton, an author and former professor at the University of the West Indies. “We need a strong, sustained intervention from Caricom as Haiti is a member. … This has been severely lacking.” 

Earlier this month, Jamaica’s prime minister said he was willing to send soldiers and police officers to Haiti as part of a proposed multinational security assistance deployment. Last year, the Bahamas said it would send troops or police if asked to do so.

Since October, Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry and top officials have requested the immediate deployment of foreign troops. However, the U.N. Security Council has not addressed the request, opting instead to implement sanctions.

On Friday, the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti released a report recommending that Caricom accelerate efforts to control the illegal proliferation of firearms and ammunition in the Caribbean.

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