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Prime Minister Press Statement Refugee Claims by OECS Citizens to Gain Entry into Canada - 19 September 2003

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Press Statement

Refugee Claims by OECS Citizens to Gain Entry into Canada
Over the last few weeks the St. Lucia media have been reporting on a most troubling development regarding Caribbean citizens and in particular those of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

The Canadian Immigration Department is reporting that there is an alarming number of refugee claims being made in Canada by OECS nationals over the last four years. For the last two years, the total number of OECS refugee claimants was eight hundred and sixty-four and as at August 14, 2003 there have been six hundred and sixteen claims lodged and the number is increasing every week. Regrettably, Saint Lucians are very much a part of this unfortunate scenario.

I feel compelled to register publicly my utter dismay and disappointment with this most regrettable development. Officials of the Government of Canada are present in the region. They are very familiar with our islands and our efforts to respect and protect the rights of our citizens. So having St. Lucia’s record tarnished by these spurious refugee claims has caused great embarrassment and distress not only to the government but also to the entire citizenry of this country.

It must be pointed out that this is not a new development and neither is it confined to OECS nationals. According to information submitted by the OECS High Commission’s Canada Office, Caribbean nationals from as far as back as 1989 have been submitting these types of claims as a basis for migrating and remaining in Canada. In 1989, Trinidad had two hundred and fifty-six nationals submitting refugee claims, Jamaica eighty-nine, Grenada eighty, St. Vincent and the Grenadines twenty-one, the Dominican Republic twenty-three and Barbados eight.

St. Lucia had only two claims. By 1992 however, the number of St. Lucian claims had more than tripled and there has been a remarkable increase since then with 2002 registering the largest number to date, two hundred and eleven.

What is alarming and a source of deep shame is that as of 2003, St. Lucia ranks as second on the list of Caribbean countries making these claims with a total of one hundred and forty-seven claims while St. Vincent and the Grenadines topped the list with two hundred and eleven claims. This is a totally unacceptable situation.

I would like to state categorically to the individuals who are submitting these outrageously false refugee claims that they are not only hurting their fellow countrymen by their dishonesty but also themselves. It has been reported that these individuals are being assisted with their claims by unscrupulous lawyers and consultants who charge up to five thousand Canadian dollars to process these claims. Those who apply may gain time but ultimately the applications fail with the prospect that the applicants are deported and denied re-entry into Canada. Honest and law abiding St. Lucians may very well be hurt by this unfortunate trend as Canadian Immigration may impose visa restrictions on St. Lucia and other OECS countries in an attempt to stem the flow of these refugee claims.

I would like to advise all St. Lucians who wish Landed Immigration Status in Canada to seek the assistance and advice of the OECS High Commission in Ottowa and the Canadian High Commissions in Trinidad and Barbados on the proper procedures for migration to Canada.

Finally, I would like to remind all St. Lucians that we have had an excellent relationship with the Government and people of Canada. Canada has been a dedicated and loyal partner in St. Lucia’s development. For many years, the Canadian government has committed tremendous financial and technical resources to this country. We would not like to see this mutually beneficial relationship deteriorate as a result of the unscrupulous practices of a few.

We publicly denounce the reprehensible actions of these persons involved in influencing young Saint Lucians to apply for refugee status. The St. Lucian government will not shield anyone who engages in this type of activity and will assist the Canadian authorities to root out this unacceptable practice. Presently, we do not require visas to enter Canada. Let us not spoil it!
Let us not give the Canadian authorities reason to impose visa requirements on Saint Lucians travelling to Canada.

19 September 2003


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