Min­istry ad­dresses Cubans with Looshan visas Re­port but ad­mits “grey ar­eas”

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL -

By Toni Ni­cholas

The Min­istry of Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs on Thurs­day in­formed the me­dia that 38 Cubans re­ported in­ter­cepted by Amer­i­can au­thor­i­ties were not car­ry­ing Saint Lu­cian visas as had been re­ported here and else­where. Still a num­ber of ques­tions re­mained unan­swered .

The As­so­ci­ated Press first broke the story on May 15 that the US Coast Guard had in­ter­cepted a boat­load of Cuban mi­grants and were wait­ing for the Cuban au­thor­i­ties to au­tho­rize their re­turn home.

“The would-be im­mi­grants had tourist visas to the Caribbean is­land na­tion of Saint Lu­cia,” ac­cord­ing to the AP re­port quot­ing U.S. of­fi­cials, “when they were in­ter­cepted by the Coast Guard. The mi­grants were found near the Vir­gin Is­lands in late April.”

At Thurs­day’s press con­fer­ence the per­ma­nent sec­re­tary at the Min­istry of Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs, Hu­bert Em­manuel, said that as soon as the story broke lo­cal of­fi­cials had con­tacted Cuban of­fi­cials as well as the US Em­bassy for clar­i­fi­ca­tion. “The Min­istry found this very strange,” the PS said, “since Cubans do not re­quire visas to come here. So we re­quested in­for­ma­tion on the said Cubans be­cause we wanted to en­sure there was no hoax, es­pe­cially at this time when we are hear­ing about so much il­le­gal migration.”

Ac­cord­ing to Em­manuel, the US Em­bassy “con­firmed the boat was com­ing from Saint Lu­cia but they had no in­for­ma­tion the Cubans were car­ry­ing Saint Lu­cian visas.”

Em­manuel added: “What we have, and what was sent to us by the Amer­i­cans were the ID num­bers of the Cubans and their dates of birth. So now we can try to ver­ify with the as­sis­tance of im­mi­gra­tion whether th­ese per­sons did in fact en­ter Saint Lu­cia by legal means.”

In other words, the mat­ter is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion—as are so many other mat­ters re­lat­ing to Saint Lu­cia’s na­tional se­cu­rity.

Em­manuel ex­pressed con­cern with what is hap­pen­ing right now “in the wake of the Lam­birds Af­fair, that Saint Lu­cia is be­ing used as a port for il­le­gal migration. We as a coun­try want to safe­guard the good name of Saint Lu­cia and so we have had sev­eral meet­ings with the Im­mi­gra­tion Depart­ment and other agen­cies of rel­e­vance in terms of try­ing to get to the bot­tom of this.”

Em­manuel said his Min­istry, with other agen­cies, was seek­ing to as­cer­tain if the Cuban mi­grants were re­ally here, and by what means they got out. “They did not leave through any legal ports. Here in Saint Lu­cia, we are not ca­pa­ble of man­ning all our coast­lines. It is to­tally im­pos­si­ble, and so we have to work with other agen­cies and other coun­tries to stem the flow of il­le­gal migration.” He added the prob­lem was a ma­jor topic at a re­cent CARICOM meet­ing of for­eign min­is­ters.

More­over: “In a much broader sense we need to look at our visa regime. As it stands now, the Min­istry of Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs is­sues visas to per­sons who re­quire visas to come to Saint Lu­cia. There are also pro­vi­sions made for the Im­mi­gra­tion Depart­ment to is­sue visas to per­sons . . . there is ac­com­mo­da­tion made for per­sons com­ing to meet­ings and they will get their visa on ar­rival, but even that we have to look at crit­i­cally and re­view.”

This re­porter won­dered why the min­istry of­fi­cial was so cer­tain the Cubans had not left Saint Lu­cia via a legal port. His re­sponse: “Nor­mally, if you go through any legal port, you must have a pas­sen­ger dec­la­ra­tion or list . . .”

I in­ter­jected: “But one can leave a legal port by il­le­gal means as in the case of stow­aways.”

Em­manuel: “I can­not say they did not use legal ports. But what­ever they did may have been done il­le­gally. I can­not see a yacht com­ing into Port Cas­tries car­ry­ing 38 pas­sen­gers and all of them go­ing through with­out pass­ing through se­cu­rity. There is a cer­tain amount of con­trol.”

Ob­vi­ously, that “cer­tain amount” had, on more than one re­cent oc­ca­sion, proved in­ad­e­quate. The re­porter in­vited the PS to ex­plain how the present visa regime op­er­ates. “The way it works,” he said, “if a vis­i­tor wants to come here, whether it be for school, va­ca­tion or busi­ness and they re­quire a visa, they would first ap­proach one of our em­bassies near­est them or ap­ply on­line. In some in­stances, for ex­am­ple if they are com­ing from Asia via Lon­don and their flight ar­range­ments al­low them to visit our Con­sulate there, they can do that. If it doesn’t, then the Con­sulate will con­tact the Im­mi­gra­tion Depart­ment here af­ter mak­ing sure that the ap­pli­ca­tion is in or­der. A visa is then is­sued on ar­rival. In some cases peo­ple ap­proach im­mi­gra­tion di­rectly but this is one grey area that we are now try­ing to cor­rect. We be­lieve that it should be one agency to is­sue visas.”

Mean­while the Min­istry of Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs says it has passed on the in­for­ma­tion re­ceived from the US Em­bassy to the Min­istry of Home Af­fairs and the Im­mi­gra­tion Depart­ment for fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

De­spite the “grey ar­eas” and ar­eas un­known, Em­manuel as­sured the me­dia on Thurs­day that the gov­ern­ment was determined to im­ple­ment its Eco­nomic Cit­i­zen­ship pro­gramme—a pro­gramme frowned on by the US gov­ern­ment whose re­la­tion­ship with Saint Lu­cia at this time leaves much to be de­sired.

Per­ma­nent sec­re­tary at the Min­istry of Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs, Hu­bert Em­manuel speak­ing to the me­dia on

Thurs­day.

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