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February 17, 2006
• Vincentians in top 10 of persons applying for refugee status

Despite the many pleas by local officials for persons carrying Vincentian passports to desist from filing bogus refugee claims overseas, St.Vincent and the Grenadines still fell among the top 10 countries whose citizens filed for refugee status in Canada in 2005.

This was disclosed by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines is the top Caribbean country on the list, and ranks ninth only behind Mexico, China, Columbia, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Nigeria, followed by Haiti in the No.10 spot.{{more}}

By December 31, 2005, 418 applications from persons carrying Vincentian passports had been referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 103 or 37 per cent were accepted, 152 were ruled as negative, 18 abandoned and 276 finalized. There were another 353 cases pending. Pending are all the cases somewhere in the process from referral to finalization.

On Tuesday, February 14, Bernard John, Consul General of St.Vincent and the Grenadines to Canada, said the numbers ought to have been lower.

John stated there are people carrying Vincentian passports who are not bona fide Vincentians and are applying for refugee status in Canada. He drew reference to three neighbouring countries, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada and Guyana whose citizens face visa restrictions to enter Canada. In their quest to enter Canada, some citizens of these countries are attracted to the Vincentian passport that does not require a visa.

“There is an obvious attractiveness of the Vincy passport by whatever means,” said John.

Secondly, he said there are Immigration Consultants who are encouraging Vincentians to apply for refugee status at the cost of thousands of dollars only to be conned in the end.

It appears that some people think claiming refugee status is the easiest way to get their landed immigrant status.

John said that the Canadian Authorities recognize the problem and have held off implementing a visa restriction.

“But that is not to say if the problem continues a visa restriction will not be implemented down the road,” John said frankly.

He said the Canadian Authorities have moved to reduce the period during which people who apply for refugee status are allowed to work. The two-year work period that was previously allowed has been reduced to six months.

Again John advised Vincentians to desist from the practice since there is only a 10 per cent chance of their getting through.

The issue of the apparent passport racket was first raised by former Minister of National Security Sir Vincent Beache in 2001 who disclosed he had information that four Vincentian passports had been sold for over EC$700,000 to Guyanese nationals who had been held in Trinidad.

And in November 2004, Police arrested Guyanese national Leon Griffith, for passport fraud.

Griffith’s arrest was a breakthrough in investigations into a passport and birth certificate racket, which had put at least one police officer at the time under the microscope.

Griffith is not the only foreigner whose attempt to acquire a Vincentian passport has been thwarted. According to information received, a police officer earlier in 2004 assisted a Jamaican national in an attempt to get a St. Vincent and the Grenadines passport. The Jamaican was able to acquire a birth certificate in someone else’s name, but his attempt to get the passport was foiled. He was detained here, and a clerk was transferred from the Registry.

Government has promised to tighten the process of acquiring birth certificates from the Registry.

In 2005 Sir Vincent, who was faced with the passport racketeering crisis, championed the cause for a Machine Readable passport to bring the situation under control.

This became a reality on Monday, June 20, 2005 when the Immigration Department commissioned the new passport system, which came into effect in July last year.

The production of the Machine Readable Passports was done by the Canadian Bank Note Company Limited of Canada in the amount of EC$4.3 million (US$1.65 million).

Sir Vincent said with the new system it will be almost impossible to tamper with the passports.

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