CARICOM government representatives gather to draft regional counter-smuggling of migrants' legislation

17 May, 2022

Recent data from the Caribbean has suggested that there have been increases in the number of migrants being smuggled around the region. To address these changing and concerning trends, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in collaboration with the Caribbean Community Implementing Agency for Crime and Security (CARICOM IMPACS), hosted a one-of-a-kind meeting on drafting legislation to counter migrant smuggling in the region that can respond to regional and national needs.

The two-day meeting between the 26th and 27th April was hosted in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, with an impressive 25 Caribbean government officials in attendance. Representatives included officials from immigration and customs departments, and attorneys general offices as both have vital roles in drafting legislation of this type.

Additionally, the forum corresponded with the meeting of the IMPACS Standing Committee of Chief Immigration and Customs Controllers on the following day. The coordination and implementation of both meetings are significant steps towards formulating legislative and practical pathways towards the enforcement of counter-smuggling of migrants’ mechanisms in the CARICOM region.

In his opening remarks, Assistant Director of CARICOM IMPACS, Earl Harris noted the changing migration dynamics of the region, and explained that they have not gone unnoticed by regional and national bodies.

“The number of persons seeking asylum in the region is on the rise, in recent weeks our analysts have seen patterns of irregular movements of persons using routes such as Haiti to Barbados then on to Guyana,” explained the IMPACS official. Harris added that these routes have expanded to include Cuba, Jamaica, Brazil, Nicaragua, and North America. He further explained that the Joint Meeting of CARICOM Chiefs of Immigration Customs Controllers, in addressing these migration trends has recommended to Member States that the region must pursue solid strategies and policies to address these irregularities, as well as enhance regional collaborative efforts to pursue common operating procedures in cases such as migrant smuggling. The IMPACS official said that the agency is supporting Member States by providing avenues for comprehensive action, and for formulating legislative strategy, such as collaborating with IOM, to counter the smuggling of migrants in the region.

IOM Regional Director for North America, Central America, and the Caribbean, Michelle Klein-Solomon, in her opening remarks underscored the importance of hosting such a significant forum of government officials to address pressing issues on migration in the region. However, due to technical difficulties IOM Program Support Officer, Brendan Tarnay, provided further remarks on her behalf.  He noted that a gathering of this magnitude shows CARICOM’s and national governments’ commitment to realising the objectives of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (GCM), particularly Objective 9 to strengthen the transnational response to smuggling of migrants.

“It is particularly promising for those who have been put into situations of vulnerability due to these networks,” said Tarnay, “as Caribbean States aim to ensure that smuggled migrants do not become liable to criminal prosecution having been the object of smuggling.” He noted that this would need to balance respect for countries’ legal systems while ensuring that responses are in accordance with international law.

Meanwhile, Deputy Director of the International Affairs Unit at the Ministry of National Security, Richard Lynch, echoed the importance of this meeting in achieving the objectives of the GCM. He explained that counter-smuggling is a diverse issue that requires multi-agency collaboration to address, which Trinidad and Tobago has implemented to advance its efforts.

According to Deputy Director, further policy development, strategic planning, and the “implementation imperative” have emerged as the most effective means for national security leadership and evaluating matters of migrant smuggling.

“This endeavour will further advance the region’s compliance with the UN Convention on Transnational Organized Crime and effect the protocol on the smuggling of migrants by land, sea, and air,” said the National Security Official. Lynch noted that the multi-day proceedings would be no easy exercise but that the expertise, exposure and experience that it has brought together will benefit the whole region.  

The meeting included a review of a model counter-smuggling of migrants' legislation that was developed in 2021, in addition to agreeing on the next steps towards the advancing legislation at a national level, its operationalization and the development of standard operating procedures. Discussions were facilitated by several skilled migration specialists from within and outside the region, including and IOM legal. 

Notably, the gathering also facilitated a landmark Caribbean-Pacific exchange between the Chair of CARICOM Standing Committee of Chiefs of Immigration, Leroy Joseph, and Head of the Pacific Immigration Development Community (PIDC) Secretariat, Ioane Alama. The exchange addressed the linkages between environmental disasters and irregular movements as Small Island Developing States seek to develop response mechanisms through regional cooperation to address climate change, natural disasters and health emergencies, such as COVID-19. 

Furthermore, countries were invited to share their experiences, challenges, and good practices on counter-smuggling of migrants. In-depth discussions also highlighted the linkages between smuggling of migrants and related crimes of human, drug and arms trafficking. Subsequently, participants paid special attention to compliance with the Protocol Against Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea, and Air, which has been signed by all Caribbean States except for Saint Lucia. Attention to compliance was also given to the GCM and United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 10.7.

This forum was made possible through IOM’s Western Hemisphere Program (WHP), funded by the United States Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM).