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Symonette: Immigration forces will be beefed up

Brent Symonette.

Immigration Minister Brent Symonette indicated yesterday that the strengthening of the Department of Immigration will achieve what the prime minister noted on Monday, when he said there was a need for a special force to deal with illegal immigration.

“We’re currently reviewing the whole setup at immigration and one of the issues will be to establish or strengthen the unit that is responsible for illegal immigrants, so we’re doing some internal changes at the moment for that,” Symonette said.

“It’s strengthening the unit that already exists. We already have people who deal with illegal immigrants and you report that on a regular basis where you have arrests and everything else, so it would just be strengthening that unit so it’ll be an ongoing exercise.”

The Immigration Act gives immigration officers the power to arrest or detain any person believed to have breached the act which includes unlawfully entering Bahamian borders.

But Symonette said this unit would primarily focus on “dealing with illegal immigrants”.

“The functions are done already here… so whether it’s established, formalized, strengthened, you know the prime minister used the word establish, so we’ll use the word establish,” he said.

“The prime minister and I have spoken and we agree there is a requirement for more staff at the Department of Immigration to carry out functions of immigration, one of which is the dealing with illegal immigrants. So, yes, we have established, there is no unit here that actually says that. There’s either investigation or you know there are other names, so yes we are going to establish a new unit but it’s a nomenclature issue.”

Following a 5.9 earthquake which struck Haiti on Saturday, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said he had heard reports of the earthquake compromising a Haitian prison, allowing inmates to escape, and is concerned that hardened criminals might be headed toward The Bahamas.

He said he has already spoken with the commissioner of police, the commodore of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force and other immigration officials, instructing them to “increase their vigilance and increase their patrol within The Bahamas”.

The prime minister said he was prepared to move further in the fight against illegal immigration.

“We are plagued with illegal immigrants and it’s essential that as we increase the number of immigration officers on our force, we must establish a force that would deal specifically with illegals, that would be a group that will be trained; they would be a part of the immigration team and they must move throughout our islands…,” Minnis said.

Following the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010, the Bahamian government suspended all repatriations of Haitians, an action then Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham defended as “the sensible and compassionate thing to do in the circumstances”.

Symonette said there will not be changes to the immigration policy following Saturday’s earthquake.

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