Fri | Dec 1, 2023

Cruel, inhumane and illegal treatment of Haitian refugees

Published:Friday | September 22, 2023 | 12:06 AM


The Advocate’s Network is deeply disappointed in the forced return by the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) of the Haitian nationals who landed at Long Bay, Portland on September 9. They were seeking refuge from the horrific conditions that have existed in Haiti for several months. We see the GOJ’s action as cruel, inhumane, and inconsistent with international law, and our own refugee policy.

Jamaica’s obligation under the 1951 International Convention and its 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees is to treat such persons consistent with international human rights standards and in keeping with its international obligations as well as our 2009 Refugee Policy. The policy also provides that where a person has indicated a desire to seek refugee status in Jamaica, he or she shall be afforded the opportunity to do so in the prescribed manner. The policy specifically states: “No person applying for refugee status may be removed from Jamaica until his/her application has been finally determined.”

The group of 36 people were removed from the Police Station in Long Bay and shipped back to Haiti on September 10. This was less than 24 hours after they set foot on Jamaican soil, without giving them an opportunity to get legal advice and to request asylum.

The GOJ stated that “from the vetting process it was found that there were members who had been previously removed from Jamaica for breaches of entry”. This statement ignores the obligations that the GOJ has to:

a. Give each person a fair hearing and an opportunity to apply for asylum, including the right of each child to make an application through their parent or guardian;

b. Treat each person individually in a manner consistent with Jamaica’s international obligations; and

c. Refrain from removing any person from Jamaica until his or her application has been finally determined.

The government has acted in a high-handed manner towards our CARICOM neighbours even when it knows from the CARICOM Eminent Persons Group that the UN estimates that almost 195,000 people have been internally displaced due to violence in Haiti since 2022.

We appeal to the GOJ to implement its own Refugee Policy and to all Jamaicans to be more compassionate and humane in the treatment of our Haitian brothers and sisters. We must be mindful to the fact that many Jamaican refugees are currently seeking asylum in other countries. In 2020, a total of 4,467 Jamaicans travelled to Mexico and in 2021 that number increased by 68 per cent to 7,509.

Guided by the message of love embodied in the “Golden Rule”, “Do unto others as you would like them to do to you” (Luke 6:31), the Advocates Network will continue to provide humanitarian support to the Haitians and will also play our part in assisting any other Haitians who need support while seeking asylum in Jamaica.