Friday, September 11, 2009

Guyana President Bharrat Jagdeo Admits LDS Missionary Issue Handled Clumsily, But Unlikely To Stop Deportations

On September 11th, 2009, Guyana's President Bharrat Jagdeo expressed regret about how his government handled the issue of the LDS missionaries in his country, but gave no sign that he might overrule the decision to deport at least 43 missionaries (the Stabroek News claims it's 50) whose documents were found to be "out of date". The temporary detention of the missionaries was discussed in greater detail in this previous post.

The Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News, KSL Channel 5 and the Stabroek News report that President Jagdeo admitted that Guyana's security ministry should have "better handled" the detention of the missionaries. He told reporters he disagreed with the way the missionaries, mainly U.S. citizens, were briefly detained last week, but he also reiterated that their work permits were expired and immigration rules had to be enforced. Jagdeo explained that they could continue to work the issues after the 30-day period had expired, but from outside the country, and also stated that they would not be barred from re-entering the country legally in the future. The latter statements lead me to believe that President Jagdeo does not intend to stop the deportations.

"I didn't think, frankly speaking, that we needed to round people up. It is not the image of Guyana that we want to portray, particularly where it concerns religious people. But the police have to enforce the immigration laws of our country," President Jagdeo said. But there is still some indication that the missionaries are being used as pawns in a power struggle between the ruling Progressive People's Party and the opposition People's National Congress (PNC); the PNC continues to maintain that the roundup of the missionaries denied the church workers due process and set a bad example as Guyana complains to neighboring countries about the deportation of its own citizens. Recently, Barbados announced changes in its amnesty policy which will unfavorably affect illegals living in that country; 53 Guyanese were recently deported from Barbados.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Carolyn Rodrigues said the United States has asked Guyanese authorities to clarify rules for renewing work permits so that similar incidents with U.S. missionaries can be avoided in the future. Leslie Sobers, who serves as the LDS Church’s Director of Public Affairs in the region, has asked that a few key missionaries be allowed to stay to continue essential humanitarian work. In addition, Sobers maintains that that applications were submitted for extension of stays but as far as he knows they were never given responses.

LDS Church spokeswoman Kim Farah, in a Friday e-mail from Salt Lake City, said church officials are "working with Guyana and U.S. authorities to reach an amicable solution."

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