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UNHCR training put into practice as migrant vessel arrives at Turks and Caicos Islands

Making a Difference, 9 March 2011

© UNHCR
Residents of the Turks and Caicos Islands help Haitians off their overcrowded vessel.

PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos Islands, March 9 (UNHCR) The recent arrival of a boat carrying 139 Haitians in the Turks and Caicos Islands has given immigration officials of the Caribbean territory the opportunity to put into practice training they received from UNHCR.

The sloop carrying men, women and children, arrived in the capital Providenciales on February 25. The Haitians were taken by immigration officials of the British Overseas Territory to a detention centre, where they will remain while their cases are processed.

Clara Gardiner, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Border Control and Labour, said training provided in February by the UN refugee agency, in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration, had allowed immigration and other staff working with migrant arrivals to respond in a more informed manner.

"The training not only strengthened our ability to respond to the arrival of the sloop, but has also improved our working relationships with international partners such as UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration," she said.

Buti Kale, UNHCR's deputy regional representative for the United States and the Caribbean, was in the Turks and Caicos Islands when the boat arrived and visited its passengers at the immigration detention centre.

"The detention conditions were acceptable and processing was carried out in accordance with the standards highlighted during the training," he said.

The group said they had been at sea for seven days after setting sail from Haiti. Government officials, working with staff of the Red Cross, provided them with food, water, clothing and shower facilities and allowed them to rest before being interviewed.

Three people, one of them a pregnant woman, were hospitalized. The 12 children on the boat were put in the care of the Social Services Department.

"The training helped officers to identify people with special needs among the migrants landing here, and will help them to identify asylum-seekers and victims of [human] trafficking in future," said Lorraine Rogerson, a senior official deployed by the British government to assist the Turks and Caicos Islands on immigration-related matters.

The three-day training on international protection and mixed migratory flows was organized at the recommendation of UNHCR, following a mission to the islands in 2010. Funded by the British government, it brought together some 40 officials from government departments, the Attorney General's Chambers and the Marine Police, among others.

The Turks and Caicos Islands, an archipelago of 40 islands and cays, serves as both a destination and a gateway to North America for hundreds of migrants moving through the Caribbean. Last year, it received four boats carrying a total of 321 Haitians. The first vessel in 2011 arrived on January 3 carrying 127 Haitians.

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