But Immigration Department on high alert
BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – AS a result of the current political situations that exist in Venezuela and Haiti, the Federation’s Immigration Department is on high alert but, so far, there has been no reported case of refugee arrival or human trafficking in St. Kitts and Nevis.
This information was recently made known to media practitioners by Chief Immigration Officer Mercilyn Hughes, a former member of the Police High Command.
“We have been monitoring and we are paying close attention to the situation in Venezuela at this time because we recognise that persons will be fleeing not just as refugees but for economic reasons, and therefore we have been monitoring since December. We have not seen an increase in passenger arrivals or anybody trying to smuggle into the country, but we have been collecting data especially for persons of interest from Venezuela, Haiti and such countries.
“There is no indication yet to suggest that persons are coming to our shores. We have been talking with the PS and Social Services and trying to understand that if there is an influx how are we going to deal with it, because we know that the possibility exists. But so far we have not seen an indication that persons have been coming down, but we are not burying our heads in the sand.”
Hughes however stated that her department had seen cases where people had used the Federation as a transit point to other countries.
“We have no indication that we have trafficking of persons. We may have people smuggled through St Kitts and Nevis to go on to other countries, but there is no indication that we have human trafficking.”
One such case was reported by this media house, when on Thursday, January 14, 2016 a vessel by the name of ‘MV Miss Over’ had arrived in St. Kitts with 16 passengers but the captain had failed to report their presence to the relevant authority.
The vessel, which was captained by Wensley George with crew member Caleb Jarvis (nationals of the Commonwealth of Dominica), had onboard three nationals of the Dominican Republic and 11 Haitians (including three females).
The Immigration Chief also referred to a past situation that occurred on Port Zante, where the passports of workers there were held by their employers.
“Before I took over at Immigration, I was told of a concern that was expressed at a place on Port Zante. When the Immigration Officers investigated the matter, all the persons involved claimed that they had actually voluntarily given their bosses their passports to hold for safe keeping, and there was not much more that could have been gleaned other than that.
“So we know that these things do happen. We know that people would use our island as a stepping stone to transit elsewhere, but there is no indication that we have human trafficking taking place. But it can be possible.”
Also speaking on the subject, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Security, Osmond Petty stated that there were cases of refugees arriving in the Federation in the past.
He told reporters that St Kitts and Nevis is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Refugees, which allows officials to accept people on a case by case basis, but the Government has not received any request for refugee status from any Venezuelan.
Petty however acknowledged that the Government is aware that there might be people travelling to the federation not being paid what they were promised.
“We have had a few instances of refugees in the last few years since I have been PS. I am not aware of any refugees from Venezuela per se at this time or Haiti for that matter, but our approach to refugees is that they come we have a hearing - Foreign Affairs, National Security and Immigration - and then we make a submission to Cabinet to deal with that. We also get input from UNACR in terms of how we will go forward.”
The PS highlighted an existing situation of which the Government is aware.
“In terms of human trafficking, we are aware that there may be people who may be coming in and not being paid. For instance, what they should be paid. And so these are things that we are working on and I think Immigration and National Security would deal with those on a case by case basis.”