Thursday, March 31, 2005 at 12:46 PM

The Plague of Haitian migrants in the Caribbean…

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

Caribbean nations are becoming extremely exasperated with the seemingly endless influx of Haitian migrants into their countries. Because it is now painfully clear that these desperate souls not only drain limited social services but also contribute to increasing incidences of crime and disorder in local communities throughout the region.

Despite increasing political stability, chronic poverty, hunger and violence in Haiti continue to compel exodus en masse from its shores. And, with a population of almost 8 million potential migrants, Haiti is a persistent menacing presence for every country in the Caribbean.

It is imperative, however, that we do not cast all Haitians living in our midst as part of this problem. Because some Caribbean countries (like The Bahamas) have a proud and honourable legacy of assimilating Haitians who – for generations – have made valuable contributions to their cultural and economic development.

Nevertheless, some countries are facing an immigration crisis that poses a severe challenge to national governance. This is especially so in countries like the Turks and Caicos and Cayman Islands where Haitians threaten to outnumber natives unless immigration controls are enacted and enforced zealously.

All Caribbean governments must recognize that this is not a crisis that can be managed with political rhetoric – as the Americans have done with their Mexican immigration problem. But at least the United States can assimilate its 12 million undocumented Mexicans (and, indeed many more) without suffering any noticeable impact on its national resources. By contrast, however, Caribbean countries cannot sustain the shocks to infrastructure and siphoning of resources that the uncontrolled influx of Haitians would inflict. Therefore, our governments must take aggressive action to seal our borders and repatriate Haitians who cannot present a legal or equitable claim against deportation.

In this regard, it might be helpful for governments of the Caribbean to consider some other governments are dealing with similar immigration problems:

Italy, for example, has an immigration policy that aims at mass expulsion of illegal immigrants – especially the unemployed. Indeed, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi even proposed an immigration bill that would authorise border patrol to open fire on boats carrying would-be illegal immigrants.

Switzerland – in a radical departure from its tradition of liberal immigration laws which resulted in immigrants accounting for up to 23 per cent of its total population – now has some of the most restrictive immigration laws in Europe. Among these is a law which mandates immigration authorities to deny renewal of work permits in great numbers to force thousands of settled immigrants out of the country.

Germany, of course, has a notorious historical antipathy to foreigners. And, perhaps to honour its long heralded motto that Germany is not an immigration country”, the Germans recently ratified new laws that would severely restrict foreign immigration and even require repatriation of highly skilled immigrants who were educated at the German tax payer’s expense. (Remarkably, they passed these new laws despite the widely recognized fact that – with its rapidly aging population – the German economy has a desperate need for such skilled workers.)

England, despite spouting more inclusive rhetoric, recently unveiled its new immigration strategy to reduce the influx of immigrants to the UK. Indeed, Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged his Labour government’s commitment to reduce immigration by an even greater number than those envisioned by leaders of the Conservative Party whom he accused of racism for describing non-white immigrants as bogus asylum seekers…flooding into Britain.”

(Even if only an election year ploy, Blair’s new immigration plan is very consistent with those being implemented all over Europe – with the notable exception of France where Jacque Chirac remains committed to stripping all vestiges of national origin from French immigrants and turning them into undiluted Frenchmen.)

Finally, it should be noted that America’s liberal immigration policy towards Mexicans (on whom they depend for cheap labour) and Cubans (who are coveted pawns in their ongoing political chess match with Fidel Castro) does not extend to blacks from Caribbean countries – especially Haiti. Indeed, reports of Haitians being interdicted by the US Coast Guard and repatriated without any asylum due process incite considerable resentment among Caribbean government officials who do not have the manpower, resources and, perhaps, political will to do the same.

US Coast Guard: “No really, we’re here to help you…get back home”

Of course, it would be untenable for Caribbean governments to endorse shooting at Haitians (Italy) or repatriating skilled Haitians (Germany) or refusing renewal of work permits for long-settled Haitian (Switzerland). Nevertheless, what the above policies demonstrate is that countries will enact draconian immigration laws if they perceive them to be in their national interests.

And, Caribbean countries must follow suit no matter how politically incorrect or potentially inhumane. Because what these policies also suggest is that if big and rich countries feel compelled to enact such legislation for the welfare of their citizens, then the compulsion for the much smaller and poorer countries of the Caribbean to take similar action should be 10,000 fold.

In this regard, The Bahamas has taken the vanguard position. And, its policies can be instructive since no country has been a more preferred thruway or squatting destination for swarming Haitian migrants than The Bahamas. Only months ago, the Bahamian government announced new measures to “stem the flow of illegal immigrants to The Bahamas”. And, in addition to emulating the American interdiction practice, the Bahamian government has initiated an aggressive campaign of repatriation that – although not quite to the German extreme – will invariably uproot many Haitians who have been settled in The Bahamas for a very long time.

Other Caribbean countries will be compelled to follow suit despite grumblings now about the Bahamian plan. In fact, the Independent Jamaica Council for Human Rights (IJCHR) recently criticized the Jamaican government for failing to provide Haitians with adequate due process consideration of their asylum applications before repatriating them back to Haiti. Nevertheless, to the greatest extent possible, Caribbean countries should coordinate immigration efforts to erect a regional bulwark against Haitians fleeing in droves from their country.

In theory, this might seem inhumane. But in practice, it could prove an enlightened means of helping Haitians despite themselves. Because, if it becomes clear that all countries will interdict and summarily repatriate them, then fewer Haitians might be willing to risk their lives at sea. Moreover, governments that do not have to worry about Haitian boat people or Haitian shanty towns (like the Mud and Pidgeon Peas in Abaco) becoming eyesores and breeding grounds for criminality will be able to direct more political and economic resources towards helping Haitians improve their living conditions at home.

Finally, as a regional block, Caribbean countries should lobby the US Congress to pass on the costs of dealing with Haitian refugees to the United States. After all, as referenced above, the American presidents are almost as responsible for creating the nightmarish living conditions in Haiti as the succession of incompetent, corrupt and ruthless leaders they’ve sponsored throughout Haiti’s modern History.

Indeed, the American government must honour its unfulfilled obligations to help build a Haiti that can sustain, govern and police itself. And, if Haitians remain compelled to brave the Caribbean Sea to escape horrific conditions at home, then Caribbean Countries should consider doing as Fidel Castro did with his undesirables in Cuba 25 years ago: Put all Haitians who reach their shores into sea worthy dingys and ship them off to the United States for the Americans to deal with them.

You created this mess America. Now come clean it up!


  1. Anonymous April 6, 2005 at 9:26 am

    Can the author please explain why Haitians now want Aristide back?

  2. ALH ipinions April 6, 2005 at 1:00 pm

    I suspect a small faction of Haitians are protesting for the return of Aritide for the same reasons that some Iraqis are fighting for the return of Sadaam (and, indeed, for the same reasons East Germans and many of the oppressed under communism were / are pining for the return of thier totalitarian rulers); i.e., because in the midst of the frustrating, chaotic, violent and uncertain growing pains of democratic transition, their nostalgia for the orderly routine of totalitarian rule is an inevitable (and natural) lament. If the Americans can help bring order and the rule of law to Haiti, it would not take too long for Aristide to recede in the consciousness of his most, seemingly, fanatical supporters and for them to embrace the freedoms and opportunities inherent in democratic societies.

  3. Ronchetti May 31, 2010 at 1:00 am

    Nice post,
    Thanks for the effort you took to expand upon this topic so thoroughly. I look forward to future posts.

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  4. Alet Viegas July 16, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    Thanks for the effort you took to expand upon this post so thoroughly. I look forward to future posts.
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