Premier Rufus Ewing has indicated that this year his government will be exploring opportunities to introduce a drone program to help curb illegal immigration of Haitians to the TCI, with the assistance of the UK and the Bahamian governments.
He made this announcement during a press conference at the Hilly Ewing Building on Providenciales on Jan. 10.
The premier was at the time outlining the measures the TCI government will be taking this year to boost its border control and immigration issues.
He noted that government is looking toward increasing both its reconnaissance and surveillance of borders at sea as well as in the air.
“Our police plane that used to do some surveillance is currently down — even though they were down they were just equipped with man power, there was no equipment — but we are looking to source airplanes with all of the various radar on board as well as the cameras.”
Ewing said they will also be looking at welcoming proposals from individuals to operate the drone program and detailing the cost involved. After which, he added, the government will be seeking assistance from the UK government for support in acquiring it.
“And we will be looking towards trying to work with the Bahamian government and see whether or not we can do a partnership with regards to the costing involved in the operation which can be very costly on an ongoing basis, especially if you are going to do at least three or four by-passes per day between here and Haiti.”
He added that the program has benefits for the Bahamas as the same route to get to the TCI, is used to go to the Bahamas by the illegals.
He said his government hopes to get to get the system up this year. In the short term, however, the Premier noted that there is not much else they can do other than what is already being done with regards to being vigilant in its radar surveillance.
“I think the persons who are operating the radars are doing an excellent job of identifying vessels. It seems like we are also capturing the majority of them; we don’t have as much undetected landing and so we are doing an awesome job of intercepting them and finding them by radar.”
He said they would like to get to the position whereby reconnaissance can be done further out at sea.
“This is better done by an aircraft because then you can seek the assistance of the US Coast Guard who have a greater ability to turn them [illegals] around at sea.
“Because once they reach our shores, we can’t turn them around to go back to Haiti. So this way it would decrease our cost in terms of detaining them and then repatriate them.”
On Christmas, 17 Haitians caught attempting to enter the TCI aboard sloops lost their lives.
The vessel they traveled from Haiti to TCI in capsized as it was being towed toward the dock to offload them.
Thirty-three others were rescued and taken into custody.
An investigation was launched into the incident, but so far there has been no information from the police on this.
The Premier told the media that almost all of those rescued have been repatriated to Haiti, while some others are detained as what he termed “persons of interest” to the authorities.
The bodies of the deceased have been autopsied and will be released to the Haitian consul soon, to be sent back to Haiti.