jueves 30 de mayo de 2024
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SVG denies landing rights to chartered flights, imposes visa restrictions amidst security concerns

iWitness News: The government of Saint. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has denied permission for two airlines operating chartered flights from Nigeria, Dubai and Morocco to land in the country.

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who is also minister of National Security, said on Sunday that Kingstown on Wednesday imposed visa restrictions on Bulgaria, Cameroon, Nepal and Bangladesh amidst national security concerns surrounding the flights.

They joined Nigerian passport holders, for whom visa requirements were in place before the development. The government is concerned about the possibility that some of the passengers could be victims of human trafficking, the prime minister said on WE FM.

Kingstown is also concerned that the passengers on the flights, which are headed to Latin America, could be trying to enter the United States illegally. 

Gonsalves said the flights were to be operated by two airlines, one of which was to originate in Nigeria, with 374 passengers “with not many Nigerians”. Another flight was to originate in Dubai, fly to Morocco and then to Argyle International Airport, on St. Vincent’s east coast.

“And that one is to be operating with a charter company from out of Bulgaria and the bulk of the people were coming from Bangladesh, from Nepal, from Cameroon, a significant number of Indians, too, and people from Sri Lanka,” the prime minister said.

Gonsalves said that authorities in Kingstown have the names of the individuals concerned. “We have their nationality, date of birth, when the passports were issued,” the prime minister further stated.

He said there were “many things” indicating that the passports were issued “fairly recently”. To give you an indication what may be an intention, … clearly that you want to come here, in theory, to leave here, hang around for a week and go to other places in Latin America and Central America., he added.

“But we are not going to be alone in any of that.” Gonsalves said the list included 23 people who were denied permission to enter “two other Caribbean countries near to us in the past.

“We have activated with this information the regional security agencies to which we belong and all of this information which we possess would be sent to all our international partners involved in assisting us to maintain security, citizens security, and to help us to be consistent with our international obligations,” the prime minister said.

He said there had also been requests for feeder companies “in respect of the entity coming out of Dubai by way of Morocco”. The prime minister said that those three entities -regional carriers … in the sense of Latin America, all of those have been refused permission”.

Gonsalves said that the Indian high commissioner was in Kingstown “because we are doing something next week and I’m going to speak to him about this”.

He said there were talks of the chartered flight operating this week, but that is off the table, as permission has been denied for them to land in SVG.

He said that in relation to Bulgaria, he had telephoned the ambassador to the European Union, “because it was easier to have gotten her than to get somebody from the Bulgarian mission.

Gonsalves said he outlined to the EU diplomat “that, although Bulgaria is a member of the European Union and Bulgaria has recently joined the Schengen visa zone -March 31 … we are imposing visa restrictions on a member of the European Union, that we are doing it for the transitory purpose of persons who may be flying this plane of Bulgarian nationality to control our airspace and our territory.”

“We want it to be something which is consistent with all our values and all our international commitments.”

The prime minister noted that the flights that were denied landing permits were charters.

“These are charters which want to use St. Vincent and Grenadines as a transit to go elsewhere and one cannot be sure, given what has happened in some other countries, that having landed here if they don’t transit out of here, you’re stuck with persons who you will not normally allow to come to stay for any prolonged period of time.”

The prime minister said the situation would be different “if somebody buys a ticket on an airline, regular airline coming in”.

He noted that SVG has bilateral relations with Nigeria, the United Arab Emirates, and Morocco.

“And we would welcome tourism, but it would be done through structured means and you’d have the governments of those countries saying well, this is how we are cooperating on tourism,” Gonsalves said.

“But, incidentally, the people who are coming out of Dubai are not people from Dubai and not people from the United Arab Emirates. So certain questions arise as to why persons may wish to come and the questions which will arise will touch and concern our own law in relation, among other things, to trafficking in persons.”

The prime minister said he had contacted the owner of a company that handles airlines and outlined to him “the dangers inherent in this. And he said, ‘Well, listen, I’m not going to operate with them anymore.’

“And the second company which is supposed to do the feeder airlines, they had told the people that they’re not interested in doing any work like this.” He said a representative of that second company told him that her business recognized that there was something “fishy” about it.

“That’s the word which was used. She may have a larger meaning behind ‘fishy’. I had a very good conversation with her. I’m careful in all the language which I’m using, as you notice,” Gonsalves said.

“A charter company where tourists coming out of Morocco? There’s no tourists here coming out of Morocco; none coming out to Dubai either. And very few actually on the Nigerian flight coming out of Nigeria. So, we have taken a clear position on this.”

The Vincentian prime minister said that the permanent secretary in the Ministry of National Security, the police, namely the Trafficking in Persons Unit, the Ministry of Tourism, and the Civil Aviation Department deal with granting of permission for aircraft to land.

“They would have made the assessments but I wanted to say to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the region and the world, we are interested in tourism. We are not interested in activities which come upon us which may compromise us in many ways,” Gonsalves said.

The prime minister said the government regretted having to take “certain decisions in relation to imposing visa restrictions on some countries.“But we have to do what we have to do. It is as simple and straightforward as that. And I think that most right-thinking Vincentians will agree.

“By the way, I just want to say that it is well-known -and I’m not linking both things- that there have been movements from places in Asia and in Africa, of persons finding themselves in Central American countries to be able to get in across the border in the United States,” Gonsalves said.

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iWitness News

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iWitness News is the leading source of daily and breaking news and current affairs information from and about St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Founded in 2009 by Kenton X. Chance, we adhere to the highest standards of journalism.
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