Organizer Haitian child-smuggling faces 18 monthsPOSTED: 01/19/12 1:58 PM
Two fathers involved, but face light sentences
St. Maarten – The Court in First Instance will rule on March 8 on a human smuggling case that involves two Haitian children. The prosecution demanded yesterday 18 months against the main suspect, Brebilus F. (46) and a 6-month suspended prison sentence plus 200 hours of community service against two fathers who brought their 10- and 12-year old children illegally to St. Maarten on October 15 of last year.
The fathers, Jonel P. (42) and Enso P. (38), thought that Brebilus F. could help them get genuine so-called attestations d’hébergement, documents that allow travelers to come to St. Maarten for a specified period of time. But F. bought forged documents of the streets in Haiti from a man called Jean Hubert for $50 a piece and then traveled with the children, a 10-year old boy and a 12-year old girl, to St. Maarten. Immigration officers at Princess Juliana International Airport discovered that the travel documents were forged and F. was arrested.
Because there is no facility to accommodate such young children at the airport, prosecutor Mr. Dounia Benammar said that they had been allowed to go home with their parents. There was not an immediate return flight to Haiti available, otherwise they would have been sent back the same day; now they are in fact staying illegally on the island.
“I have no authority over condoning their stay,” the prosecutor said. “”But we cannot allow this type of family reunion. Then there is no way out anymore.”
F. told the court that children in Haiti still suffer the consequences of the 2010 earthquake. “Children live in the streets and they are not safe. they are dying of hunger; I felt the obligation to do something.”
The fathers attempted to get visa for their children, after they had legalized their own position. But when the visa-bid failed, they started looking for alternative solutions.”
F. was arrested on October 16 and released from pretrial custody on January 10. The two fathers spend a week in preventive custody in October.
At the insistence of his attorney mr. Geert Hatzmann, Brebilus F. told the court about a bad experience he’d had in Pointe Blanche. He said that Richard Reid, who was suspected of killing his 13-year-old daughter Tiffany on September 6 of last year, Reid had told him he intended to commit suicide. He said that he was sleeping when he got up to go to the shower where he hanged himself. there were several other inmates in the same cell but apparently nobody noticed anything until it was too late. F. said that he was shocked and that he still suffers severe headaches as a result.
Prosecutor Benammar said that there is proof F. smuggled four children into St. Maarten. On two earlier occasions he brought a boy and a girl from Haiti to the island. Immigration controlled their papers and let them go. F. said that the other two children had traveled on similar papers, and that he thought there was nothing wrong with them.
But the prosecutor was not buying F.’s story. She pointed out that in a period of seventeen months he had flown nine times to Haiti. On a monthly income of €1,000 that leaves after paying the rent €500 to live off and to maintain two children, where does the defendant pay his tickets from, she wondered.
“The children did not travel with their own fathers to St. Maarten. F. managed what the fathers were unable to achieve. He had the contact that could arrange the attestation d’hébergement, and those papers were obviously forged. The defendant wants us to believe he did this out of the goodness of his heart. He even says that the children are his family but he does not know exactly who they are because his family is so big. This is all highly unusual. How it is possible for him to save so much money from the €500 he lives off to fly nine times in seventeen months to Haiti is a mystery. He has supplemented his income in other ways. He has brought children here for a fee, for profit.”
The prosecutor acknowledged that the situation in Haiti is terrible but that organizer F. had in fact abused the miserable situation of other people’s children. She demanded 18 months imprisonment, with 6 months suspended and 3 years of probation. She asked the court to end the suspension of F.’s custody and to order his arrest at sentencing.
For the two fathers the situation is different, the prosecutor said. They made it possible for F. to smuggle their children by providing pictures and passports), but they did not do this for profit. mr. Benammar demanded against the two fathers for inciting F. to smuggle their children to a conditional 6-month prison sentence with 3 years of probation and 200 hours community service.
mr. Geert Hatzmann noted there are mitigating circumstances for his client Brebilus F. “What my client is charged with cannot stand in the shadow of the excesses in the human smuggling industry,” he said. “He is not a professional and he is not making extraordinary profits. I am working for him as a pro Deo attorney.” Hatzmann cited similar cases where suspects were punished with community service and concluded that his client had been punished enough already with his lengthy pretrial detention.
mr. Remco Stomp, acting for the two fathers, said that his clients are entitled to family reunion. “It has not been established that the children want to stay here permanently. The demand is disproportional.” Stomp asked the court to acquit his clients.