Guyana, new destination for refugees from Arab countries: “I have a brother in eastern France, he passed through here”

Guyana, new destination for refugees from Arab countries: “I have a brother in eastern France, he passed through here”

Equatorial rain pours onto the floor of Center La Verdure, a vast plaza behind a state administration building on the outskirts of Cayenne. Inaugurated in July 2022, it was intended to house eighteen asylum seekers in converted former offices. They are now more than 80 on the site. About twenty single people sleep on a narrow covered terrace, sheltering from the rain under tarpaulins stretched over duvets and suitcases. “Better than on the sidewalk, next to the cathedral,” says Zoïk, a Moroccan in his 40s, alluding to the first place many asylum seekers live when they arrive in Guyana’s capital.

In La Verdure, seven Syrian and Palestinian families have found a place under the Carbet kitchen where they have pitched their tents. “We sleep on two-centimetre-thick floor mats, we’ve had a three-day power cut and there are insects,” explains a Syrian national, showing the bite-covered arms of his two children. The luckiest have waited several days before rooms are vacated by other families who have found accommodation in the city.

At the end of the corridor are the toilets and the only shower in the center, for eighty people. “We managed the site until December 31, 2022, when it had to be evacuated, but while we wait for other shelters, people are still there,” said Basharat Muhammad, Guyana president of Humanity First, an NGO based in Guyana London, which still offers lunch and dinner. “The problem is that the inputs are more important than the outputs,” he adds.

Discovery on the Internet

In 2015, the first asylum seekers from Arab countries – Syrians fleeing the war – arrived in this French department. 90% of applications are accepted for them. In 2021, Syrians, together with Palestinians, accounted for 20.6% of asylum seekers (692 applications). In 2022, it was 30.2% (942 applications), almost as many as Haitians, whose share is declining after making up the bulk of the 20,000 applications registered between 2015 and 2020.

Several migrants caught a skin disease in the makeshift reception center Several migrants caught a skin disease in the makeshift reception center “La Verdure”. In Cayenne, Guyana, January 16, 2023. RONAN LIÉTAR FOR THE WORLD

During a visit to the department on Tuesday 17th and Wednesday 18th January, the Minister Delegated for Overseas Territories, Jean-François Carenco, stressed that this influx of around 30 arrivals per day is fueled by the asylum procedure. French diplomacy is pushing Brasilia to reform it.

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Among the migrants from the Middle East and Africa, many discovered the destination on the internet. “On social media, they say there is a country after the sea where you can apply for asylum, we saw that it was Guyana,” explains Yamna [tous les prénoms suivants ont été changés à la demande des personnes], a young agronomist from Western Sahara, a region disputed by Morocco and the separatist Polisario Front. “We are being persecuted and are seeking international protection,” she said. In La Verdure, 27 Sahrawi made their way into exile via neighboring Brazil.

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