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Illegal sloops from Haiti flood TCI during COVID-19 crisis; residents on edge

#Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands — Overnight Turks and Caicos borders were breached by suspected illegal Haitian migrants and while some were captured, others appear to have escaped detection and made landfall.

Reports from residents of sightings and face-to-face encounters are vexing and disconcerting, especially given the public health crises created internationally by the novel coronavirus: COVID-19.

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In a voice note circulated on WhatsApp, a resident of Providenciales said: “Looks like we have been locked down and our borders are not being protected as we have so many boats coming in here.”

The man expressed that he believed as many as three boats landed in the northwestern end of Providenciales.

Governor and Officers on the scene of a successful interception at South Dock, Providenciales, TCI

“On my journey doing my exercise this morning, I encountered a little episode where me and my wife ran into a group of Haitians coming out of the bush. There was a bigger group ahead, so, one was coming to me speaking in Creole. I had to brush him off and continue walking, but it was kinda scary,” the man said in the audio message sent to relatives and advising them to ‘stay safe’.

Images shared on social media revealed law enforcers who were donning the all-important Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) gear; however the six-foot rule of social distancing was clearly disregarded. Scores of captured illegal migrants were seen in one photograph, seated on the floor of the gymnasium with only around two-feet of spacing between the men.

In anticipation of the possible surge in illegal landings or interceptions and guided by the fact that flights between the Turks and Caicos and Haiti are suspended indefinitely; the Governor had informed the general public the Gus Lightbourne Gym would be used temporarily as a detention center.

Law Enforcers protected by PPEs, face masks and gloves as they arrest illegal migrants from Haiti in an interception overnight

Governor Nigel Dakin earlier this week reported that a vessel with many hundreds of Haitian migrants was turned back.  That was good work.  However, it was not a guarantee that the illegal migrants would not make another attempt.

The Turks and Caicos has a coastal radar, which performs well in the effort to interdict and intercept. The images from overnight, however are reflective of those boats which sometimes slip through undetected and the people which are apprehended, then become the responsibility of the Turks and Caicos Islands Government with its limited capacity and strained resources.

COVID-19 is an all-consuming affront and threat to the modern world, but human traffickers flagrantly disregarding the additional pressure of smuggling operations. Residents are incensed by this and by the response to this ongoing problem by officials, including the United Kingdom which is responsible for National Security and Foreign Affairs.

“After I got away from them and I called 91, continue my journey about 45-minutes up to now, not a police came into Blue Hills as yet! On my way back, on the dirt road a whole group of them – about 15 – were running, just running.”

It was not the only report of no or slow response to the sightings of suspected illegal migrants by residents of Providenciales.

Additionally, Haitian officials, according to media reports, are accused of not accurately reporting on COVID-19 cases within the republic.  Many find it impossible to believe there are only 16 or 18 coronavirus patients in all of Haiti.

Suspected illegal migrants from nearby Haiti photographed in bushes; residents say trying to evade capture

Haiti has a population of 11 million and notoriously falls short when it comes to coping with outbreaks of infectious diseases. The country shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, which tragically leads the region in COVID-19 cases and deaths. Over 1,300 are infected and the death toll is approaching 60 people according to April 2 statistics.

Cell phone video, also distributed on social media had captured the goings-on within the bush area flanking the Providenciales Landfill or dump site; three males are spotted navigating the bushes which have long been identified as a common hide-out for undocumented migrants from nearby Haiti.

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