August 8 2019
After arrival, most Haitians head to Lethem – Timehri bus drivers
In line with earlier reports in the Sunday Stabroek, Haitians entering the country move rapidly to exit the country via Lethem and local bus operators continue to make connections with them at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport upon arrival.
A visit to the airport on Tuesday just after the arrival of a Copa Airlines flight illustrated the operations. According to the bus drivers, a high percentage of the Haitians coming into the country would arrive on Copa Airlines flights.
As Haitians nationals exit the airport, minibus operators both Guyanese and Haitians nationals approach and indicate to persons which buses they should board. In some cases, Haitians living in Guyana serve as translators and bridge the gap in communication.
Communication between the minibus operators and the passengers was challenging due to language barriers.
The nationals after boarding the buses, departed and headed for Georgetown. In Georgetown, a minibus operator who asked not to be named, explained that the Haitians would then board a route 94 (Lethem/Georgetown) minibus at one of the bus operation terminals and depart for Lethem.
A driver who operates on the Lethem trail told Stabroek News that on several occasions he transported Haitians and because they speak no English, he was unable to communicate with them. He stated that the Haitians would board the bus after purchasing their tickets and once the bus is loaded they would be gone.
During their wait, they would purchase meals and use the washroom before embarking on their journey.
Every Haitian that left the airport on Tuesday was seen with their passports in their hands. Mainly young adults and toddlers were the ones travelling.
With the increasing attention on the arrival of Haitians into the country, at the airport, minibus operators were very skeptical to speak about the operations.
The minibus operators told Stabroek News that they would check flight schedules before visiting the airport in search of passengers. They pointed out that soliciting passengers from the airport is easier for them than operating on the road.
“It is a faster way of getting passengers here, so we would check and if there are too much passengers we would call another bus to get the work,” one of the minibus drivers explained. He too declined to provide his name.
One of the drivers stated that none of the Haitians would stay behind in Guyana and their main objective was getting across the border to Brazil.
“No one is staying in this country. I don’t know why they are creating a big bacchanal over these people coming into the country. They are coming legally and going out legally at Lethem. They have to stop and check with police and immigration officers throughout the trail. Nobody is being smuggled or trafficked. These people are coming and asking to go to Lethem so that they can go across the border,” the driver disclosed.
Another driver injected that they would also present a manifest to the police with the names, addresses and passport numbers of all their foreign passengers.
He said further that all of the Haitians passing through Guyana are in search of a better life and most of those that are travelling are like those Guyanese who had left to work abroad.
Come back to Guyana
“I come back to Guyana from Venezuelan after things started to get hard. I work in the islands too. Just like how we leave this country for a better life and the Venezuelans are coming here, these people are moving,” the man said.
Additionally, the minibus operators rubbished claims in the public that the Haitians are being granted Identification Cards and would be allowed to vote. They stated that one of the reasons the Haitians are not staying in Guyana is due to the language barrier.
“These people cannot speak English and it is very hard for us to understand their creole French so I don’t know how they will go and say that they are voting,” he reasoned. He opined that the arrival of the Haitians is being used “for politics.”
Asked if Route 42 (Georgetown/Timehri) Minibuses would aid in the transportation for Haitians, the operators responded in the negative and pointed out that unless it is a special hire and a permit for the Georgetown/ Lethem route is given, they cannot transport persons.
The Route 94 minibus driver, who spoke with this newspaper related that mostly buses contracted to Georgetown/Lethem transport services would transport the Haitian nationals.
Stabroek News had previously reported that it was a struggle for the Haitians as they journey to Lethem as they are unable to purchase food and in some cases are harassed by the police for bribes.
Commander of ‘E’ Division Linden Lord had informed this newspaper that he had received a report about officers soliciting bribes and has already commenced an investigation.
On Monday Minister of Citizenship, Winston Felix said that the police have found no evidence of smuggling of Haitians and he called recent reportage on this matter “xenophobic”.
In an interview with the press unit of the Ministry of the Presidency (MoTP), Felix condemned as inaccurate and deceptive, information published in both the Kaieteur News and Guyana Times about the arrival and departure of Haitian travellers to Guyana.
The articles, he said, have alleged that Haitians are being smuggled, are victims of Trafficking in Persons (TIP) and that there are levels of collusion to have the Haitians registered to vote at the upcoming General and Regional Elections (GRE). “These are xenophobic”, Felix said in the MoTP interview.
Felix said during the January and July 2019 period, 8,476 Haitians arrived in Guyana and 1,170 departed the country. Forty-eight were refused leave to enter on landing, he added. Felix’s figures would suggest that there was no record of the Haitians leaving via Lethem legally or that these records have not yet bene reconciled.
Felix said in the interview that in 2019 there was a legislative adjustment to Schedule II of the Immigration Act, Cap. 14:02, to include Haiti as a beneficiary to the Caribbean Single Market Economy (CSME), which facilitates free movement within the Region and automatic entry and stay of six months in CARICOM countries.
“This position resembles xenophobia and is even practised by certain people in power. I cannot see why a CARICOM state, which has now gotten CSME status can be so vilified for passing through Guyana. They are just passing through and yet they are attracting all the negative thoughts and actions of people who are seeking power. We have 8,476 Haitians arriving in Guyana but for example, we have 11,119 Trinidadians also arriving for the same period and no one is making a noise about that but everyone is making noise about the Haitians who simply use Guyana as a point of transit to get to their diaspora in Colombia, Cayenne or Panama,” the Minister said.