A known human trafficker who the Government says posed a significant security threat to Jamaica was among the 36 Haitians who were returned to their country by local authorities Sunday morning, according to Robert Morgan, the minister without portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister with responsibility for information.
Morgan was defending of the Government’s quick action to send the Haitians home, which has been heavily criticised by human rights activists.
“We found security threats within the group, persons who may have presented a risk to our national security and we had to act very quickly to ensure that these security threats did not come into our society and impact the safety of our citizens…We had intelligence reports about individuals. There’s one individual who has been to Jamaica several times, which is a person that was clearly engaged in human trafficking,” Morgan told the Jamaica Observer on Tuesday.
Morgan stressed that Jamaica is signatory to several protocols and international agreements to protect the country and to protect people against human trafficking, “and we will not allow human trafficking to take place; where we find it we will reject it. We will make the effort to ensure that human trafficking is not a part of our society”.
He said that the individual who was a captain on the boat which brought the more than 30 individuals to Jamaica has been to the country on several occasions transporting individuals to the island or to other territories.
“There are persons in Haiti, who have made an industry of transporting persons. They take money from individuals and they use their vessels to transport individuals to other countries. Turks and Caicos has had the problem, The Bahamas has had the problem. That’s human trafficking… and these individuals, in many cases, do not know which territory they’re going,” he said.
The Haitians who arrived on Saturday were the second group to have landed here, via boat, since July. The first batch of 37 are currently in the process of seeking asylum.
It was reported that the Haitians who got here on Saturday were at sea for close to two weeks. Morgan said that they did not know that they were coming to Jamaica and that Jamaica was not their desired location.
“They never wanted to be in Jamaica… and when they were engaged by our authorities they expressed the view that this was not their intended destination or their desired destination, and as such we engaged with our security forces to ensure that they were safely returned to their home country,” he said, noting that the Haitians wanted to go to the United States and never sought asylum in Jamaica.
He said that the Government therefore had an obligation to return them to their port of origin, and in this case, the Government of Haiti said that it would be willing to accept them, pointing out that they could not be returned without a willingness of the authorities in Haiti to accept them.
Morgan’s arguments counter the accusation of a “forced return” of the Haitians by at least one rights group, Freedom Imaginaries, who accused the Administration of sending the Haitians home “under the cover of darkness, without due process, in blatant disregard of United Nations (UN) advisories and international law”.
According to Freedom Imaginaries founder Malene Alleyne, the Government’s decision to return the Haitians “without due process” could have been a deliberate effort to impede their access to legal support and information on their rights.
Alleyne, an attorney, made the accusations in a letter to Prime Minister Andrew Holness and two other Government ministers.
“We are also concerned that this decision could be indicative of an emerging policy of draconian responses to vulnerable Haitian migrants in an unlawful attempt to deter future flows of Haitians to Jamaica,” she said in the letter, a copy of which was seen by the Jamaica Observer.
Alleyne said that the Government’s claim that it sent the Haitians home because “it was found that there were members who had been previously removed from Jamaica for breaches of entry” raises concerns that they were not assessed individually.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), she said, explicitly prohibits penalisation for “illegal entry”.
However, Morgan insisted that the Government followed international law and local law as it relates to how to deal with situations like this.
“No one can say that the Government of Jamaica broke any law or any international protocol. What we did was we followed the law to the T; we engaged our agencies to ensure that what we were doing was in line with what our obligations are as a member of the global community.
“The persons were not landed, they entered into Jamaica illegally and the Passport and Immigration Agency dealt with them appropriately. They did an assessment, they engaged with the persons and the persons told our agents that… they were not unwilling to be repatriated to Haiti. We engaged with the Haitian Government, who expressed a desire to allow their return. As such, the Government of Jamaica engaged with our security forces and returned [them] to a safe environment within Haiti,” he said.
As to whether action will be taken against this human trafficker when they return, Morgan said that is a matter for the Haitian Administration.
“We have safely delivered the victims to Haiti. Those who were seeking to transport others to various jurisdictions, the Haitian authorities would have to deal with it.
“Despite what is being said, Haiti still has a Government. They may have challenges, but they still have a Government. They still are running as a society, and we’re engaged with the Haitian authorities to ensure the safety of those who were returned,” he said.
Haiti has been experiencing economic, security and political crises for years.
The assassination of President Jovenel Moise in 2021 has dramatically worsened the situation, with gangs taking an increasing stronghold.
Last Friday, the UN reported that more than 2,400 people have been killed in Haiti since the start of 2023 amid rampant gang violence, including hundreds killed in lynchings by vigilante mobs.