Brazil has an illegal immigration problem

Illegal immigrationGuiana porous borders

The chestnut flows wide and sluggishly past Saint-Laurent. A sandy beach serves as a port. Wooden boats moor up and down incessantly, passengers come and go, goods are passed overboard. The pirogues commute about a thousand times a day between Saint-Laurent and Albina, that is the name of the town on the opposite bank. The chestnut forms the border with the neighboring country of Suriname. And thus also the border between Europe and South America. Police checks are as good as pointless:

"Imagine if France had an open border with Morocco. It's something like that here," says Gabriel Carles, gynecologist and obstetrician at the Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni hospital.

Disturbed balance

"Illegal immigration is throwing Guyana out of balance. In all areas - health, schooling, justice, infrastructure, housing - the country has to cope with increasing population numbers."

The hospital recently moved to a state-of-the-art new building. It is now on the outskirts - for now. Saint-Laurent is growing. The view from the window falls on a forest. Wooden houses with corrugated iron roofs spread out between palm trees. Illegal buildings without water or electricity connections. Officially, Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni has 44,000 inhabitants. According to the town hall, however, more than 70,000 people live here. Every third resident does not have a residence permit, which explains the difference.

A mother carries her newborn baby in her arms. Almost 3,000 babies are born in the clinic every year, as many as in a large Parisian hospital. 45 percent of the mothers are French, 45 percent come from Surinam. He is happy that he can help so many women, says the gynecologist.

France and Europe help

"We have the best-equipped hospital within a radius of 1,000 kilometers. Yes, people come to us who have no prospect of medical treatment in their home countries. France and Europe provide a service here for the population in the region, a kind of development aid. We improve their health. "

The city's schools are also very popular. Daniel Deyris runs a college for 6th to 9th grade students. The building was designed for 500 young people, almost 900 are now crowding the classrooms, says the director.

"I sign certificates every day. In order to apply for a residence permit or an application for naturalization, parents need proof that their child is enrolled in school."

The director has no problem with that. Rather, he worries that 40 percent of his students hardly speak French and are therefore severely disadvantaged.

The school building in Saint-Laurent was designed for 500 young people. 900 children crowd into the classrooms today. (Bettina Kaps)

Tolerance is a tradition

Willy Ranguin is the chief police officer and union representative in the capital, Cayenne. For him, tolerance and helpfulness are a tradition in Guyana:

"Guyana has always been a country of immigration and a melting pot. But that is only possible as long as it is economically viable. The police are not specifically looking for family members who live across the two border rivers. We are looking for people who cause damage to Guyana."

For example, illegal gold miners who work with mercury and poison the environment. And drug dealers who use the department as a gateway to Europe. But also illegal immigrants who hope for a better life.

The borders with Suriname and Brazil are porous. However, the only connection road to the capital Cayenne is strictly controlled. Guard posts are installed there about 100 kilometers from the respective national border. Gendarmes check every single passerby around the clock.

Willy Ranguin, chief police officer and union representative in the capital Cayenne (Bettina Kaps)

No further travel to Europe

In the immigrant districts of Cayenne, identity checks are also the order of the day, says Marion Beaufils. The young woman works for the evangelical refugee aid organization Cimade:

"In 2017, over 5,000 foreigners were expelled from Guyana, and in 2018 it should be even more. Guyana, apart from the island of Mayotte, is the French department from which most people are deported."

Most of the applicants come from Haiti and their chances of asylum are minimal. Guyana is too attractive for people who are obviously not in need of protection, said President Macron a year ago. To change that, France has now issued special rules for Guyana: asylum seekers must submit their applications there within seven days, in the rest of France they have 21 days. The immigration authorities for their part should then make a decision within just two weeks.

Ten human rights associations criticize what they say is a "race against time". You sued - to no avail. The special regulation is initially only valid for 18 months on a trial basis. The opponents fear that it could then even be extended to all of France.

But no matter how many foreigners try to build a better life for themselves in Guyana - there are no consequences for the EU, says Marion Beaufils from the CIMADE refugee agency:

"They are almost exclusively immigrants from the region. They are looking for a culture and a climate that are familiar to them. These people never even think of moving to Europe."