Still battling to cope and recover from Hurricane Dorian last month, authorities in The Bahamas are coming under increasing international pressure to cease mass deportations of undocumented foreigners, Haitian nationals in particular.
The cabinet of Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said as the week began that it has been forced by circumstances to take the “painstaking” decision to remove illegal immigrants not covered by local laws.
The announcement comes about a week after the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights blasted the administration for deporting nearly 200 Haitians who, officials say, were not only living in embarrassing shanty towns, but were moving to rebuild these structures in the wake of the near total destruction of Abaco Family island. Abaco and Grand Bahama were the hardest hit by Hurricane Dorian, rated as one of the most powerful and slowest moving Atlantic storms on record. More than 60 deaths have been reported so far but authorities fear this number could rise in the coming weeks as tons of debris is cleared.
Moving to clarify the government’s position, the foreign ministry said that now that the worst has passed from the storm and some semblance of normalcy has returned, the focus on obedience to immigration laws must be resumed.
“Once the urgent search and rescue phase had passed and a semblance of normalcy returned to the country, the Bahamas government made the painstaking, conscientious, but necessary, decision to resume the implementation of its immigration laws.” The statement contended that regardless of the origins of undocumented persons on the islands, emergency management officials ensured they were given every assistance in the immediate aftermath of Dorian but the rule of law must take precedence at this juncture.
“The government of the Bahamas wishes to assure that there was adherence to all due process. The requisite procedures for proper documentation via captured biometrics were followed to determine every individual’s constitutional right to reside lawfully in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. Persons found wanting and in violation of the Immigration Act were lawfully removed, in accordance with the requisite court orders,” the ministry said.
The United Nations had severely criticized Nassau for resuming mass deportations, contending that government had turned back on promises to suspend such actions for humanitarian reasons.
“We call on the authorities to halt any further deportations to Haiti at the moment. We call on the government to refrain from deporting individuals who lack documentation without the individual assessments and due process guarantees to which they are entitled under international law.”
In recent days, a group of 112 Haitians were sent back home on a special charter flight, while an additional 62 were rounded up and carted off in northern New Providence for immigration and a slew of other offences.
The Bahamas, with a population of about 300,000 scattered on about 700 small islands, has been struggling with large numbers of Haitian migrants, many of whom land by rickety boats on the nearest islands, fleeing poverty in neighboring Haiti. Successive Bahamian governments have persistently complained about the strain in state resources with large numbers of Haitians arriving and have at times suggested that outsiders do not understand the full complexity of its immigration problems.
The destruction wrought upon the Caribbean Community nation by Dorian has given officials the opportunity to clear large areas in Abaco, in particular, of makeshift homes and shops which had spoiled the landscape of the idyllic tourism dependent nation.
The move to forcibly send home large numbers of Haitians comes as Attorney General Carl Bethel has vowed that government will clear away all the shantytowns on the two battered up islands and will forcibly prevent anyone from reconstructing similar structures in the wake of the storm that has killed about 60 people. About 400 people are still listed as missing. Prime Minister Hubert Minnis is also adamant that the future landscape in a reconstructed Grand Bahama and Abaco would include no shantytowns or make shift structures.