Guyana, Suriname say citizens’ health and safety must take precedence over border reopening

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Even though the Heads of State of Guyana and Suriname would have once again discussed the need for the reopening of the border between the two countries, Presidents Dr Irfaan Ali and Chandrikapersad Santokhi said that the health and safety of their respective citizens must take precedence.

President Ali returned to Guyana on Thursday following a three-day State visit to Suriname, where he discussed with officials there, the need for the border between the two countries to be reopened.

The borders were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and it has been months since the MV Canawaima ferry has been out of operation – a move which has heavily impacted trade between the two nations.

During a joint press conference at the Presidential Palace in Paramaribo on Tuesday last, President Santokhi disclosed that the issue of the ferry service would be on the agenda of the working group which was established to advance discussions on matters relating to both countries.

However, in a joint press statement issued subsequently, the Presidents noted that “both sides agreed that as soon as it is safe to do so, the border between the two countries will be opened, but that the health and safety of the general population of both States must take precedence over the reopening of the border”.

Talks about reopening the border had also taken place in October when a high-level ministerial delegation from Suriname visited Guyana.

In a joint statement issued following that engagement, it was disclosed that the two sides agreed that the issues affecting the resumption of the MV Canawaima Ferry Service need to be urgently and jointed addressed in anticipation of the resumption of the movement of goods and people between South Drain and Moleson Creek.

“The Ministers noted the critical role that the Canawaima Ferry Service plays in people-to-people contact, bilateral tourism and trade between Guyana and Suriname. To this end, the bodies responsible for the Canawaima Ferry Service will be directed to immediately commence discussions and activities to ensure that the MV Canawaima is available for operations as soon as the Ministers of Health of Guyana and Suriname declare that it is safe to do so,” the joint missive detailed.

The Guyana-Suriname Ferry Service was closed since March 14, 2020 – days after the first COVID-19 case was recorded in Guyana, prompting the shutdown of all ports of entry. Guyana has since reopened its airports – the Cheddi Jagan International Airport and the Eugene F Correia International Airport.

While the Guyana-Suriname Ferry Service is still closed, authorities in the two neighbour countries facilitated the repatriation of some 49 Guyanese who were stranded in Suriname. These persons, who were transported via the MB Sandaka ferry, had to be tested negative for the novel coronavirus in order to gain entry back to their homeland.

Meanwhile, further on the issue of the COVID-19 pandemic, Guyana and Suriname pledged to work together with sympathetic States, Governments, NGOs and multilateral institutions to ensure that developing countries and the poor have access to the vaccines.

They also called upon the developed world to ensure that there are sufficient supplies to the developing world and the poor. “It was agreed that both Suriname and Guyana will continue to work in solidarity to contain the spread of COVID-19,” the most recent joint statement from the two countries added.