Immigration officials are investigating the conditions under which a bunch of Haitian visitors, including several babies, are being housed within the basement of a property at Wanstead Gardens, St James.
A joint immigration and police operation was conducted on the apartment complex on Monday, but officials said they may not disclose the character of the investigation despite concerns from residents about what of their opinion, appears to be a potentially dangerous situation.
Barbados TODAY investigations, nevertheless, revealed that the roughly 33 Haitians who arrived on February 20 through a travel agency, were granted in-transit visas to be in Barbados for 15 days, on a journey ultimately sure for Guyana and/or Brazil.
The agency was reportedly paid undisclosed sums of cash to accumulate airline tickets, travel visas and other essentials for the Haitians, who’re said to be fleeing social, economic and political instability of their home country.
But they’ve overstayed their welcome with no definitive word on if or after they might be continuing their journey.
“It’s an ongoing investigation and I’m sure you could appreciate that I won’t have the ability to talk to the matter until it’s accomplished,” said Acting Chief Immigration Officer Margaret Inniss.
There was no response to a request for comment from the Barbados Police Service.
The Haitians are staying at a gated, three-storey house with metal bars. The owner is claimed to be staying on the third floor, a Barbadian tenant and a few Haitians on the ground below in separate two-bedroom apartments, and the others within the basement apartment.
On Thursday, a handful of individuals trickled out and in of the home and when approached by Barbados TODAY they confirmed their nationality. Though they spoke fluent English initially of the conversation, they declined to reply questions on their situation.
“Are you guys doing okay and do you’ve gotten concerns about your current situation?” asked Barbados TODAY.
“I don’t speak English,” certainly one of the visitors replied.
He was with a lady who was silent and the 2 quickly walked away.
Two men walking toward the home had an identical response when questioned about their travel and living arrangements.
“We don’t speak English.”
Barbados’ Ambassador to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) David Comissiong, after making some inquiries, revealed that the group’s in-transit visas in Barbados had expired but their visas for passage to Guyana had not been approved.
He also revealed that an agency called MPH was managing all the group’s travel arrangements.
“What I gather is that these folks are in transit to Guyana and it seems as in the event that they are individuals who paid money – and I gathered that the name of the agency is MPH – to get them to Guyana and that they’re upset about, I believe, the period of time that they’re spending in Barbados and never knowing after they might be taken to Guyana,” Ambassador Comissiong related.
There may be an MPH Travel Agency, on Facebook, claiming to be based in Segovia, Spain. Nonetheless, all of the posts are written in Haitian creole. Within the comments section were plenty of people complaining about being stranded in Barbados and/or about having to pay more cash than was originally agreed for passage into Guyana.
“Money is taking successful,” said Akotchat Dante in a post translated to English.
“Our money is finished, we’re on this trip,” said a Jacob Esterlin. “I never thought that after spending a lot money . . . MPH can’t put a Guyana visa and plane ticket to enter Guyana.”
Comissiong said it was unclear exactly how much money had been spent on the promised trip to Guyana.
The ambassador admitted to having concerns previously about some agencies taking money from Haitians and bringing them to Barbados with the promise of jobs that they may not deliver.
People living in nearby houses said the Haitians within the mostly quiet neighbourhood stood out as they traversed the often empty streets speaking creole.
“I don’t know who they’re, where they’re going and I don’t know their names. I just know they aren’t from here. I believe there may be a baby within the group,” one resident told Barbados TODAY.
One other resident recalled the Sunday when two vans with ‘ZM’ licence plates brought the Haitians to remain.
“I counted at the least 30. It’s only in recent times I got a more accurate number – 33,” said the resident of 25 years.
“There are kids there who might be as young as three or 4 years old.… I believe the authorities should at the least look into it for the kids’s sake because I think that the parents of the kids won’t even be there. The best way that you just see them interacting it doesn’t seem like they’re parents. If the parents of those children usually are not there, that makes it even worse,” the resident added.
Some residents made calls to the Immigration Department, Child Care Board and even the COVID-19 Monitoring Unit, expressing concern that so many individuals were being housed in such an enclosed space.
“At anyone point I counted six [children] together and you would possibly even find others that look slightly older that is perhaps minors,” said one neighbour.
“You can not tell me in 2022 that you would have 33 people staying in a room and we’ve no protocols, rules or regulations saying that something about that’s improper, when a number of weeks ago the Prime Minister and the Minister of Housing were within the news saying that government units are overcrowded because there are 15 people living in there.
“It can’t be right. If two or 4 people had come to remain, that shouldn’t be alarming but when you’re bringing in 33 . . . you can’t encourage that,” the source added.
But even after the joint operation on Monday, the situation remained unchanged on Thursday evening, except that the Haitians’ outside activities gave the impression to be more limited, based on residents.
On Monday when Barbados TODAY first visited the realm, moments after the operation, two women – certainly one of them elderly – warned the news team to steer clear of the premises. The younger of the 2 said she was a “government employee”, that cameras were “all over the place” and that there could be consequences if an article appeared within the news.
Neighbours later said that the older woman was the owner and the younger woman her niece.
While the Haitians are said to be hesitant to reveal the circumstances under which they’re being held, some residents reported receiving complaints that life was becoming difficult and that they didn’t have enough food.
The source said the people “who appear to be in charge” would occasionally bring food, gas bottles and other supplies for the visitors.
Eyewitnesses said Monday’s operation, which continued for a number of hours, involved seven officials with two buses and one jeep.
Among the Haitians are said to have scampered into the nearby bushes.
For several months, reports out of the Northern Caribbean, Central America and North America suggested a pointy increase within the variety of Haitians risking their lives to go away their homeland.
Last yr, officials in Guyana reported that a complete of 42 100 Haitians arrived there between 2015 and 2021 but only 3,913 are recorded as having departed.
It meant that a complete of 38,187 Haitians were unaccounted for but authorities on the time didn’t imagine they were still in Guyana, raising suspicion that the South American country was a serious transshipment point for human trafficking.
The Government later banned Haitians from visa-free travel to Guyana.