Suspected Human Trafficking: Haitians move to High Court seeking release from protective custody

A group of Haitians spotted in Guyana last year

A representative for 26 Haitians who reportedly entered Guyana illegally and are being held pending deportation, has moved to the High Court seeking their release from State custody. The Home Affairs Ministry had said that the Haitians are being held in protective custody as it is suspected that they are victims of human trafficking.

Those in custody are 10 males, nine females and seven children (two boys and five girls).

President of the Association of Haitian Nationals in Guyana, Kesnel Toussaint, through Attorney-at-Law Darren Wade, has filed Habeas Corpus proceedings, asking the court to release his countrymen as they are being held unlawfully. Toussaint argued that their continued detention violates their fundamental right to liberty.

In court documents seen by this publication, Toussaint said that the group of Haitians arrived in Guyana on November 7, 2020, and were granted six months’ stay. According to him, they were subsequently arrested by armed Police ranks at the Linden Highway and taken to CID Headquarters where they were processed and legal status ascertained.

Despite this, Toussaint said that his countrymen are still detained and are being kept at a State facility in Region Five (Mahaica-Berbice) where they are not allowed to interact with visitors. He stated that on November 19 and November 24, 2020, Attorneys-at-Law Kean Trotman and John Lindner, respectively, visited the location to see the Haitians but was denied entry.

The President of the Association of Haitian Nationals in Guyana added that Trotman was only able to speak to a few of them through a fence. In an affidavit, he said, “The detainees are kept under armed guard. I have seen a video on social media circulating with the detainees complaining that they are being held under inhumane conditions. My countrymen’s detention is unlawful and a contravention of their fundamental rights.”

According to court documents, some of the Haitians were staying at a hotel in Georgetown. Their lawyer, Darren Wade, when contacted, said that the matter came up on Friday before High Court Judge Priya Sewnarine-Beharry.

According to Wade, he argued that “It is unlawful to have persons in custody in excess of 72 hours, along with it being a violation of their constitutional rights.” The lawyer said that State Counsel Pritima Kissoon was asked by the Judge whether the detainees were granted a six-month stay and whether they were taken before a Magistrate on charges for illegal entry.

However, Wade informed that Kissoon indicated that she was not in a position to indicate this to the court. Wade added that he informed the Judge that they were not taken before a Magistrate for a deportation order to be issued.

Further, Wade said he complained to the Judge that the Haitians were not being allowed access to counsel. “I contended that every additional minute of the detainees’ continued incarceration is the continued violation of their constitutionals rights.”

Justice Sewnarine-Beharry will hand down her ruling in the matter on December 3, 2020.

Following their detention, the Home Affairs Ministry said that it had teamed up with the Guyana Police Force to investigate the suspected human trafficking involving the Haitian nationals.