Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Gonsalves: Haitians can stay legally in T&T for 6 months


launching book: Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines Dr Ralph Gonzales shows his book during the University of the West Indies (UWI) Distinguished Open Lecture, Caricom leaders lecture series, at the Lecture Theatre of The UWI’s new Teaching and Learning Complex on Circular Road, St Augustine, on Tuesday night. —Photo CURTIS CHASE

Mark Fraser

Haitians can enter Trinidad and Tobago and stay legally for at least six months, and under the 2001 Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas the Government (RTCG) cannot refuse them entry.

This was one of the points raised by Dr Ralph Gonsalves, the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, when he spoke at UWI’s Caricom Leaders Lecture Series at the St Augustine campus last Tuesday evening (June 17).

“That is a matter that has not been given sufficient consideration,” Gonsalves told the audience who filled the auditorium at the university’s newly built Teaching and Learning Complex.

His lecture, which was titled “Free Movement of People–Shanique Myrie and our Caribbean Civilisation”, focused on a legal analysis of the RTOC and the implications of the ruling made last year in the case of Myrie vs The Government of Barbados. In that case, Myrie, a 22-year-old Jamaican woman, was denied entry to Barbados on grounds which the CCJ deemed illegal. She was awarded US$40,000 in damages by the court.

“My reflections lead me to conclude that many governments, individual ministers, and immigration officials across the Caricom region do not yet appreciate the significance of the Myrie judgment to the freedom of movement of community nationals,” Gonsalves said.

He read extracts from the CCJ judgment, noting that Barbados had argued that, since the ROTC had not been ratified by domestic legislation, the treaty had no legal force.

But the CCJ judges rejected this submission, arguing that, if the countries which had signed the ROTC could nullify it by not passing domestic laws, “the efficacy of the entire Caricom regime would be jeopardised”.

Gonsalves noted that persons from any member state could enter any other state without a passport of visa once they had a university degree or worked as a journalist or artiste or held a Caricom National Skills Certificate.

He informed the audience that he personally signed such certificates, and that he was the only prime minister who undertook this task, which was generally left up to public servants in other Caricom countries. “I do it because, as we say, I know how some immigration officials stop.”

Gonsalves noted the ROTC allowed member states to refuse entry to any “undesirable person”, with undesirability being determined on four grounds: posing a danger to public morals, security, health, or becoming a drain on public funds.

But in all these cases, Gonsalves argued, the officials had to have specific grounds. “It can’t be that the person says they staying by Mabel, and you know Mabel goes to a place where she sells services as old as the civilisation itself.” He added, “The CCJ has shown that it is willing to hold governments to account.”

Noting that Haiti was a bona fide member of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), Gonsalves said: “Haitians are thus entitled to all the rights which appertain under the community law to freedom of movement of community nationals.”

He noted that Haiti had a population of ten million people, as compared to T&T’s 1.3 million, and questioned what impact this might have.

At the start of his hour-long talk, Gonsalves, the present head of Caricom, told the audience the controversy over Haitians in the Dominican Republic being denied citizenship was still alive. “Those who think that issue has been solved–they dreaming,” he said.