Local human rights activist Fred Smith, QC, said the government should not detain undocumented migrants but instead allow them to work.
“Detention ought not to apply to immigrants,” Smith said during a hearing on the treatment of migrants in The Bahamas, which took place on Friday at the 172nd session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Kingston, Jamaica.
“So the reality is, just as the government for hundreds of Cubans years ago bailed them out and allowed them to go into the community on condition that other members of the community would return them, many Haitian migrants or those waiting for documentation can live and be constructive and productive members of the society instead of it costing the government hundreds of millions of dollars, as you say, to keep them in an illegal detention center.
“Let them out and let them work in the community.
“The Bahamas is a small country, but we need hundreds of thousands of more people to make it grow and produce.
“Geographically, it’s a huge country.
“We should stop focusing on the fact that we have a small population, and recognize that we are a member of a much larger global community, and that immigrants are not criminals.
“They are human beings like each one of us trying to make a better life.
“And, so, the whole mentality, the visceral hatred and xenophobia that exists in The Bahamas has to be, your government is a much more enlightened one than many of the previous ones.
“And I beg you, work with civil society to help change this mindset that foreigners, in particular Haitian migrants, are some kind of disease that must be banished from The Bahamas.
The request for the hearing was filed by local human rights group, Rights Bahamas, in conjunction with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, which is headquartered in Washington, D.C.
“We implore The Bahamas government to stop treating those who are born in The Bahamas and who have lived there all of their lives as if they are illegal migrants and to find a way,” Smith said.
“Even if you don’t have to pass a referendum, pass a law in Parliament giving all those who are born in The Bahamas the right to remain in The Bahamas, and they are not subject to the terror, the real terror, of being picked up at random, held in detention indefinitely, and deported.
“And so that is a very simple and quick fix. Doesn’t need a referendum.”
The draft Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill, 2018, provides a right of abode, that would give children born to foreign parents a right to stay in The Bahamas until they reach their 18th birthday.
Rights Bahamas said the hearing was “in light of the many reports of human rights abuses, illegal detention and deportation exercises, the implementation of racist and xenophobic policies, the targeting of persons of Haitian descent born in The Bahamas, denial of the right to school to children of migrants and the ongoing inhumane and unsanitary conditions at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre”.
The government was represented at the hearing by Minister of State for Legal Affairs Elsworth Johnson.
He called many of the issues raise by Rights Bahamas “unsubstantiated and duplicative”.
Education: Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish
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