Hardship does not justify illegal migration, Bahamas Christian Council President Bishop Delton Fernander said yesterday.
Fernander was speaking in relation to the government’s plans to charge and repatriate 18 Haitians who survived when the sloop they were on ran aground off Abaco on Saturday, February 2.
“The laws have to be enforced. Unfortunately, they risked their lives and their brothers and sisters died, but it is the nature of the law that if you come in illegally, you will be deported,” Fernander said before the migrants were charged.
“It is tragedy for them. I’m sure it has been a traumatic experience, but the law is the law.”
According to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), 83 Haitians, 76 men and seven women, were on board the sloop.
There were 18 known survivors, and 31 bodies were recovered.
The survivors were arraigned and charged yesterday, where they all pleaded guilty to illegal entry, and were handed over to the Department of Immigration.
Asked about the sentiment that the survivors endured enough hardship and should be allowed to stay, Fernander said, “I hear that, and really, as a pastor, I feel their pain, but we have to enforce the law. When we start making loopholes and exceptions, we end up with the court cases we’re dealing with right now, which may set precedent.
“If we do it for one, the other nationalities will say, ‘Well, you did it for that nationality, so why not do it across the board?’
“So it’s just being careful as a nation that we do not set an unintended precedent that cannot be taken back.”
Fernander said, however, that the underlying causes of illegal immigration in the Caribbean must be addressed from a regional standpoint.
“We will deport those who are here illegally, but the reason why it is happening is, systematically, Caribbean nations have been challenged,” he said.
He continued, “There’s an economic slavery taking place that has destroyed Haiti’s economy, destroyed Jamaica’s economy, destroyed Barbados’ economy… and I just want us to pay attention to that.
“I think sometimes in our haste to down our own Caribbean brothers and sisters, we have to see the trend, have to watch what’s happening and know it’s greater than people hopping on a boat and trying to get a better future.
“That could be us if we’re not very, very careful and notice what’s going on in a trend around the Caribbean.
“And it’s being done by a certain block that is really putting tremendous pressure on all of us as a Caribbean, so we have to work together.
“I believe we have to stimulate the Caribbean economy. Yes, we have to look out for The Bahamas, but we have to look out also for the entire Caribbean as one block.”
Fernander called for increased trade among Caribbean countries in order to better stimulate their economies.
He said, “What is happening, I have a little more knowledge on this because I represent an Israel-Caribbean coalition, what is being done through farming and other partnerships, we can find products in different islands that we can collaborate and work together to [increase trade].
“So, we might decide we will not grow that in The Bahamas, and we will take all of that from Haiti. That stimulus helps them.
“I know some people will say that takes money out of our pocket, but if we cannot grow it or we do not grow it and we import it, why not import it from one of our brothers and sisters rather than somebody who is applying pressure to our economy?”