Govt receives formal request on repatriation halt
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday released the formal request given to it by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Regional Office suggesting The Bahamas stop repatriating illegal Haitian nationals on certain grounds.
Despite this request — which is meant to replace a similar request made by the UNHCR shortly after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti — Foreign Affairs Minister Brent Symonette (with responsibility for immigration) told The Nassau Guardian yesterday that the government’s position has not changed since it announced last week that repatriations would continue unless there are drastic changes on the ground in Haiti that would warrant ceasing repatriation exercises.
After the February request last year following the earthquake, The Bahamas stopped repatriating illegal Haitian nationals and gave those locked away in the Carmichael Road Detention Centre temporary status.
However, this time the government is taking a different approach to the UNHCR request.
“We’re a sovereign country and obviously we have to review issues on the ground (in Haiti) and unless things change in Haiti our policy will remain the same,” Symonette said last week.
The UNHCR has asked for countries in the region with high Haitian refugee populations like The Bahamas to halt repatriations until the situation in Haiti — which it contends has degraded — improves.
”Despite the recent election and the positive outlook that they bring to the recovery of the country, the Haitian state, weakened by the earthquake, cannot yet ensure that vulnerable or disabled people, people with health problems or victims of sexual abuse in Haiti would receive sufficient or adequate care by the state in case of return,” said the request. “In this context, governments should refrain from conducting returns to Haiti.”
The UNHCR said it fully recognizes “the prerogative of states to return individuals to their country of origin” but asked that countries in the region give special consideration to individuals who meet the outlined criteria.
The body has asked that countries “refrain from returning to Haiti persons with special protection needs in the current humanitarian context, in particular any unaccompanied or separated minor, given the lack of comprehensive and effective child protection mechanisms, unless an individual assessment has determined that return would be in the best interest of the child and that appropriate measures for the child’s protection, including guardianship and adequate civil documentation, have been secured prior to return; any Haitian living with disability or suffering from a severe medical condition, unless specific precautionary measures in terms of reception and reintegration are in place [and] any Haitian victims of human trafficking, for whom a protection-sensitive approach should be adopted.”
Last week’s Cabinet Office release insisted that The Bahamas has always been sensitive to the plight of the Haitian people.
“The Bahamas’ record of dealing with the Haitian illegal immigration issue since the earthquake has been one of sensitivity and prudential judgment with regard to various domestic imperatives and our international obligations and relations,” the release said.