Asylum seekers would be assisted by the state under proposed law
Any person who is at least 18-years-old or is an unaccompanied minor, is eligible to make a claim for asylum under the Law Reform Commission’s newly proposed immigration laws.
The new clauses, contained in the draft Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill, 2018, provide for the person seeking asylum to make a claim within six months of arriving in the country, whether they are in custody or landed in the country legally.
The person seeking asylum must be “a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or because he holds a particular political opinion; or who not having a nationality and being outside of the country of his habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or owing to such fear, unwilling, to return to it”.
The claim is to be made to the director of immigration, who, if satisfied that it was made within the allotted six months, shall designate the person as an asylum seeker.
Pending consideration of their claim, an asylum seeker, if in custody, shall be released from custody; would be given the right to remain in The Bahamas; would be granted assistance for the purpose of his physical and material wellbeing; and shall have the right to work pending consideration of their claim, without having to pay fees for a work visa.
If the minister of immigration is satisfied that the applicant has a well-founded claim of persecution, then the asylum seeker cannot be returned to his country of origin or nationality and may be granted refugee status.
The minister then can make arrangements for that person’s support, accommodation and upkeep until they can find gainful employment.
A person given refugee status would have the right to remain in the country indefinitely, would have the right to work subject to the grant of a work visa having been exempted from paying those fees, and would be issued travel documents and a refugee certificate for the purpose of identification, travel and certifying their entitlement to enter and remain in the country.
The provisions further delineate factors that would cause a person’s refugee status to be discontinued.
These include individuals who have voluntarily availed themselves of the protection of their country of nationality; voluntarily acquired a lost nationality; voluntarily acquired the nationality of another country and enjoy the protection of that country; if they no longer need to be out of their country of nationality because the circumstances of their asylum ceased to exist, or if they are able to return to their country of habitual residence due to changed circumstances.
The minister of immigration can also expel a refugee from the country on the grounds of national security or public policy.
But before being expelled, a refugee would be given the opportunity to plead their case, including the ability to submit evidence and be represented by counsel.
“Refugee status shall not be discontinued, nor shall a refugee be expelled or returned against his will to a territory of which he established a well-founded fear of persecution,” the bill reads.
A person cannot be granted asylum if they have committed a war crime, a crime against peace, a serious non-political crime outside of The Bahamas prior to his admission to the country as a refugee, or has been guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
The new law also grants the right of appeal against the refusal of asylum, discontinuance or expulsion, but with certain limitations.
Those individuals can make an appeal to the Supreme Court within 14 days of being notified of any such decision on the grounds that if they leave The Bahamas they would be subject to persecution.
Further, a person who has made an appeal cannot be deported or made to leave the country, pending the application of their appeal.
Any person who knowingly and for gain, facilitates the arrival of an asylum seeker, unless acting on behalf of an organization aimed at helping those individuals without charge, would be fined $3,000.
Every asylum seeker and refugee must conform to the laws of The Bahamas and shall be afforded the same treatment under the law as aliens.