The Bahamas government has reiterated its steadfast position regarding the deportation of Haitian nationals following the passage of Hurricane Dorian last month, insisting there ‘was adherence to all due process; and the requisite procedures for proper documentation”.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement, comes less than a week after the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called on the Hubert Minnis administration to halt the deportation of illegal Haitian nationals from the country.
The OHCHR, responding to the deportation of more than 100 Haitians less than two weeks after Prime Minister Minnis warned illegal migrants they should either leave the country voluntarily or be “forced to leave”, urged 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”.
The human rights group noted that many of the Haitians lived in informal settlements that were destroyed by the hurricane, losing their documents, jobs and belongings.
But in its statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said it “wishes to inform that pre, during and post-Hurricane Dorian, The Bahamas government relaxed its immigration deportation and repatriation policies and procedures to ensure the safety, security and well-being of all persons – irrespective of nationality – within its borders.
“During the search and rescue phase of the humanitarian efforts, all displaced persons were carefully accommodated in safe abode, whether with family members or an authorized shelter, irrespective of their immigration status.”
The government said that all illegal migrants, irrespective of their origin, were removed from the country “in compliance with the statute laws of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, in accordance with the Immigration Act, consistent with the international standards of the rule of law and in compliance with international human rights norms and standards.
“The government of The Bahamas wishes to assure that there was adherence to all due process; and 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.”
It said all individuals found in violation of the Immigration Act were “lawfully removed” from The Bahamas “in accordance with the requisite court orders”.
Hurricane Dorian slammed in the Bahamas on September 1, killing at least 60 people and causing widespread destruction in Grand Bahamas and Abacos islands, where many Haitians had lived before the storm.
The OHCHR noted that Bahamian authorities had initially said immigration enforcement activities would be suspended in the affected islands, but that ‘this position was publicly reversed at the end of September, when they announced that all migrants without valid documents would be apprehended and deported.
“This has led to panic among Haitians affected by Hurricane Dorian, and reports are emerging of people leaving temporary shelters for fear of arrest, and of people failing to avail themselves of necessary humanitarian services or going into hiding,” OHCHR noted.
But the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that “The Bahamas resumed lawful implementation of its statute laws after careful analysis, at a time when it was deemed appropriately humane and necessary to do so.
“Contrary to what has been alleged by OHCHR, the government has received no reports of ‘people leaving temporary shelters for fear of arrest and or persons failing to avail themselves of necessary humanitarian services or fleeing into hiding.’
“The international community may rest assured, the government of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas is a country that adheres strictly to the rule of law both locally and internationally, especially with respect to the rights of every man, woman, and child in its jurisdiction.
“Any person entitled to be in The Bahamas legally will be accorded every fundamental right under its statute laws. Any person in violation of the Immigration Act will be dealt with in accordance with the statute laws of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
Last week, Senior Magistrate Carolyn Vogt-Evans, said she was prepared illegal migrants to adopt a harsher line of action after indicating that fines do not seem to be a deterrent.
The magistrate sentenced several undocumented migrants to prison for immigration offenses, including five Haitian men who were sentenced to the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services for illegal migrants entering the country.
At one stage during the court proceedings, she told a clergyman, who pleaded for a noncustodial sentence for two of the men, “that’s why they keep coming, because we just keep fining them.
“Just couple of dollars, all the time, all the time. When is it going to stop? Because everybody is going to find the couple dollars for the fine. It’s beyond that for me now. It’s not getting through. The fine is not a deterrent, it’s making things worse. And that is why. And if more keep coming, the more they’ll go to jail for a longer time,” she added.