Attorney-at-Law, Joshua Francis, is calling on the state to exercise discretion in the manner in which the Haitian nationals in Dominica are being treated.
In recent times it has been alleged that a significant number of Haitian nationals have been pouring on Dominica, particularly after Dominica and Barbados provided visa free entry to the Haitian brothers and sisters who are CARICOM nationals.
It has been estimated that over 11,000 Haitians descended upon Dominica’s shores last year and upon arrival they would get their 6 months stay and those who choose to stay beyond the 6 months they would have sought an extension on their stay.
Because of so many Haitians coming in, according to state officials out of the 11,000 plus that came in on the island, their records show that only 1200 or thereabout returned to Haiti, which means that there are over 9000 Haitian nationals on the island.
But according to the officials, if one has to do a survey to ascertain the numbers who came in last year, it would note that most of the Haitians have left the state, allegedly to Guadeloupe and Martinique via backdoor [illegal entry from Dominica].
It has been reported that there is a human-trafficking problem on the country’s shoulders.
Dominica News Online (DNO) understands that the alleged problem became so chronic that Dominica decided to restrict the number of Haitians coming into Dominica and as such the visa-free entry for Haitians was removed.
In Dominica in an effort to cure what French officials say are serious problems created by human-trafficking from Dominica, according to state officials the state responded by its refusal to provide extension of stay to Haitians and that includes persons with work permits.
“So we found Haitians who have work permits, seeking an extension or seeking renewal of work permits and they were told that currently the state is not providing an extension of stay and or renewal work permits,” Francis told DNO during an exclusive interview on Thursday. “To compound the situation police officers, acting under the instructions of their supervisors, started picking up or rounding up Haitians who overstayed.”
Francis believes as much as the state has discretion to decide whether it wants to renew extension to any foreigner it must do so with reason.
“It must give sufficient notice to the people, as in the case of the Haitians from what I understand people have not received or did not receive sufficient notice as to 1, when the government stopped issuing those work permits and renewals or extension of stay,” Francis remarked. “To me there is insufficiency in notice to the Haitian community.”
He continued, “We have to create a policy which is fair, just, which is up to international standards on human rights.”
He believes that the Haitians should be treated fairly in accordance with the constitution of Dominica, the Treaty of Chaguaramas and human rights Conventions.
Francis said that, on the other hand, the state is well within its rights to take care of its borders.
“Nobody is questioning the rights, because the state has that right,” he stated.
However, he said in making decisions and passing policies it must be done properly.
Francis is representing 5 Haitian Nationals who were arrested last week for overstaying.
The men appeared in a Roseau Magistrate court on Friday 16th October 2020, and the matter was adjourned for Monday 19th October. The charge of overstaying in breach of the Immigration and Passport Act of Dominica was read to them.
They pleaded not guilty and Francis sought bail for them. However, the magistrate denied bail and they are presently on remand at the Dominica State Prison. The matter was further adjourned to November 13th, 2020.
Francis went on to say that some of the Haitians have legitimate reasons why they are on the island without regularization.
“For example you have cases, well in my case two of my clients had work permits and the work permits expired in September, according to them, prior to September they went to the immigration seeking information, they also went to the Labour Division with the intentions to apply for a renewal of their work permits and they were informed that the state is not issuing renewals of work permits neither the state is issuing extension of stay,” Francis explained.
He continued, “In that case they were asked to return, my clients alleged that they left and they were awaiting to find out when the state is reissuing extension of stay and extension of time.”
He further explained that one of his clients has been living in Dominica for the past 4 years, he has gotten at least 3 work permits…and up to September he was regularized, he was legal and because the state has refused to renew work permits he found himself in a situation where now he is arrested and he is on remand.”
Francis is of the view that a person like that should have legitimate expectation to get a renewal.
“This is somebody who came to Dominica, and has not been involved in any illegal activity, he has been working hard and contributing to taxation on the island,” he remarked. “While in bed in the wee hours of Friday morning [October 16] he alleges that police descended upon him and dragged him to the Roseau police station cell,” Francis revealed. “He is just an example of several other Haitians who are in similar situations.”
Francis said in modern law, “Peter should not pay for Paul”.
He urged the Haitian community to come together and pen a letter expressing their concerns about the latest decision of the government in not issuing a stay.
“I think that the Haitians should consider doing a judicial review, have the court once again put the decision of the state in respect to its refusal to renew visas for the Haitians, to review their stay on the island under the microscope,” Francis advised. “Because in my view the Haitians are vulnerable people and they should be subject to equal treatment under the constitution of Dominica.”
He added, “They must be subject to a fair hearing, they must be afforded attorneys, they must be given an opportunity to be heard.”
In August, Attorney Wayne Norde applied to the court for a judicial review of the decision of the state to pick up Haitians and deport them.
Norde asked the court to mandate immigration department to forbid the practice of just picking up the Haitians and sending them away without a court hearing and also to ask the court to extend their stay on the island.
Norde was unsuccessful in getting an extension of time for the Haitian nationals. However, some of them voluntarily left the island.
Attorney Ronald Charles has also attempted to get assistance in court through judiciary reviews and was unsuccessful.
Meantime, DNO spoke to two Haitian nationals who reside in Roseau whose permits are to expire soon.
Both individuals who chose to remain anonymous said they are worried they might be sent back to Haiti if their permits are not renewed.
“I have been living in Dominica for over 5 years and I never had a problem when renewing my permit,” one of the Haitian nationals said. “I have two children living in Dominica who were born there. What will happen to those of us with our children who live here and goes to school here if the law continues to treat us that way?”
The other Haitian national said, “this is pure frustration on all of us, some of us cannot get flights out of Dominica and have no choice to stay until a flight is available, but when you threaten to lock us up for overstaying, this will only push some of us to leave the country illegally especially when we sometimes cannot get flights out.”
“We need to be treated as human beings, the way our brothers and sisters are treated by the Dominican authorities is wrong. Not every Haitian on Dominica has criminal intentions,” he stressed.
On Sunday Oct 25, Haitians gathered at the Windsor Park stadium to discuss their concerns . Among the main talking points at the meeting were what they said was government’s refusal to grant work permits to Haitians and to renew the permits of those Haitians who already had them, leaving them in “legal limbo” and the fact that some of them who had lived in Dominica long enough to qualify for citizenship and have applied but have not ben granted citizenship with no explanation.
Below is a video of the gathering courtesy the Facebook page of Loftus Durand.
The video (link below) is mostly in creole but there is an interview in English with one of the protesters near the end.