St. Kitts And Nevis Parliament Sends Strong Message to Caribbean Human Smuggling Gangs

Basseterre, St. Kitts (SKNIS): The Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Bill, 2024, was successfully passed in the Federal Parliament in St. Kitts and Nevis on Friday, June 14, 2024. The Bill, championed by Attorney General, the Honourable Garth Wilkin, represents a robust response to the growing issue of migrant smuggling into either island and through the Federation’s territorial waters. Human smuggling involves the illegal transportation of people across borders for financial gain, often under perilous conditions that endanger the lives of those being smuggled.

This new law marks a pivotal step in safeguarding the Federation’s borders and protecting the lives of vulnerable individuals. The Attorney General has advocated for swift harmonisation within the OECS to give true effect to the intents of the Act: “It is imperative that the OECS Member States, our geographical neighbours, enact similar and stricter anti-smuggling laws and enhance collaboration among law enforcement agencies as these human smuggling gangs operate in multiple jurisdictions,” Attorney General Wilkin stated. “The Act not only penalises those directly involved in smuggling but also addresses the broader network of gangs supporting these illegal activities. Harmonisation will give us the common tools to disrupt these cross-border criminal networks.”

The penalties in the Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act are strict and aim to deter and punish individuals involved in the smuggling of migrants and related activities, while also providing measures to protect and support smuggled migrants. A conviction for smuggling carries a maximum fine of EC$300,000 (US$111,000) or imprisonment for 15 years, or both. When human smuggling is aggravated, that is, it endangers the lives of migrants or subjects them to inhumane or degrading treatment, a conviction carries a maximum fine of EC$500,000 (US$185,000) imprisonment for 20 years or both.

In March 2023, at least 16 Cameroonian nationals died when the boat in which they were being smuggled out of Antigua capsized in the territorial waters of St. Kitts and Nevis. Given tragic human smuggling incidents such as this, the Act was drafted as a comprehensive toolkit for law enforcement officials. The Act also recognises the rights of vulnerable migrants and provides guarantees of their rights to urgent medical care, protection against violence, and assistance when their lives or safety are in danger.

“This legislation sends a strong message that human smuggling will not be tolerated within St. Kitts and Nevis territorial borders. By imposing harsher penalties and enhancing support for smuggled migrants, we aim to uphold the values of compassion, justice, and human dignity that our nation holds dear,” AG Wilkin further elaborated.

By the passage of this Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act, the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis has sent a message that it remains committed to upholding the rule of law and fostering regional cooperation to combat the scourge of human smuggling and the gangs that benefit therefrom.

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