Editorial | The continued Haiti problem
The Bahamas has a population of 350,000. There are 11 million people in Haiti.
The Bahamas has one of the most developed tourism economies in the Caribbean. Haiti is the poorest country in the hemisphere – and it’s next to us.
People leave zones of chaos to find zones of peace, comfort and prosperity. When a person is starving, when there are no jobs, when there is extreme violence, the desperate take any risk to find better.
Thousands of Haitians come here every year in search of a fresh start. They live in shantytowns. They live in regular accommodations with friends and family who migrated here. The unlucky, however, are caught by the Department of Immigration and deported.
In normal times this is the immigration flow between our countries. Additional disorder in Haiti makes things worse.
Our government has had to suspend repatriations to Haiti due to political unrest in the republic. Violent protests have raged since February 7. Protesters are calling for the resignation of the president and prime minister. There are corruption allegations related to the PetroCaribe oil program and skyrocketing inflation.
In recent days, protesters stoned the Haitian president’s home, clashed with police in the streets, blocked roads and set cars and tires ablaze.
There are reports that several people were killed and many others injured.
Food, water and gas have become scarce in the Haitian capital and schools, businesses and government offices remain closed.
In Haiti, due to its history, street protests must be taken seriously. What starts as a demonstration could easily lead to all-out revolution.
In a statement, the Office of the Prime Minister said, “In anticipation of a potential increase of illegal migration from Haiti, Bahamian security forces have been placed on high alert.
“As a protective measure, the government is also preparing a temporary detention center in Matthew Town, Inagua, which will be staffed with personnel from relevant ministries and government agencies, as to deal with any resultant eventualities.
“Officials will continue to closely monitor the situation in Haiti.”
Hours after the government announcement on Saturday suspending repatriations, authorities apprehended 64 migrants on board a Haitian sloop, west of Compass Cay in the Exumas.
Yesterday, Director of Immigration Clarence Russell said 112 migrants were at the detention center, but he refused to say how many were Haitian. The Nassau Guardian learnt there were 88 Haitians at the facility (not including the 64 picked up on Saturday).
“We are anticipating a full house,” Russell advised.
It is unclear what these protests will lead to. Another period of chaos – beyond the normal calamity of the troubled island – could send waves of people fleeing in all directions. The collapse of Venezuela, for example, has led more than three million people to exit the country, causing strains on neighboring countries, especially Columbia.
The Bahamas does not need an all-out migrant crisis. Dealing with the normal flow of undocumented migrants from Haiti to here already strains our limited resources. But, with the situation deteriorating, we must be ready for that possibility.