Symonette: IACHR may not appreciate illegal migration problem
Following an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) hearing in Kingston, Jamaica, on Friday, Immigration Minister Brent Symonette said he doesn’t think some people fully appreciate the influx of illegal immigrants in The Bahamas and the associated costs.
Minister of State for Legal Affairs Elsworth Johnson attended the hearing, at which he said the government considered the matters about purported human rights violations in The Bahamas raised by local human rights group Rights Bahamas to be “unsubstantiated and duplicative”.
During the hearing, IACHR President Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño emphasized that detention is not the solution for illegal immigration in The Bahamas.
Asked his thoughts on the statement, Symonette said, “I’m going to reserve my comments until I’ve spoken to Minister Johnson who was down at the hearings recently.
“I think, unfortunately, we have to look at the total picture in The Bahamas.
“I don’t think a number of [people] fully appreciate the influx of illegal immigrants here in The Bahamas and the cost.
“For instance, a boatload of 100 [people] arrive on our shore today, are we supposed to let them walk around the street until we decide when to repatriate them?
“These are issues.
“We have 100,000 square miles of water [and] illegal immigration is a large problem.
“We spend about $1.6 million per year repatriating non-Bahamians.”
Rapporteur on the Rights of Women and Persons of African Descent and against Racial Discrimination Margarette Macaulay also told Johnson that IACHR could order The Bahamas to amend its laws to create gender equality where it is not addressed in the constitution.
“I have difficulty when any international organization tries to force a sovereign country to do things which are not in the best interest of that country,” Symonette said.
The issue of statelessness was raised during the hearing when Rights Bahamas identified statelessness of children of migrants as a problem created by Bahamian legislation.
“…The situation is this, as a result, there are so many stateless children who were born in The Bahamas and cannot get citizenship because they cannot provide the sufficient documentation in order to get it,” Macaulay said during the hearing.
“And as to say, even when they’re 18, they have to apply for citizenship within a certain time or they’ll miss the boat if they exceed that time, this is extremely difficult to accept, and the commission wants to work with The Bahamas to see how we can resolve this issue.”
In response, Symonette said he understands the law to be different.
“You know, I think we have to look at where people come from,” Symonette said.
“We’re so many miles away from The Dominican Republic, Cuba and Haiti, if you look at our immigration policy, if you look at the number of [people] we deport, you can see it is [an] issue.
“There are economic issues in Haiti that require that persons leave [there].
“Did they take into consideration the fact that we had a number of them die in Abaco recently?
“These are real situations that affect each and every one of us.
“They talked about statelessness for instance and that’s not a provision in certain areas because a person has the right to apply for citizenship.
“So stateless becomes, when you are stateless, in my opinion.
“You’ve got to be careful on that tight frame.
“So, in some countries, third generation, born outside the country are stateless, fine we can deal with that.
“But someone who’s born first generation, born in The Bahamas has the right to a passport of another country, they always have that so they are not stateless; that’s very clear.
“Now whether or not they want to go and get that passport is a different issue.
“So, for a commission to say they’re stateless, I have a different understanding of the law than what they’re saying.”
Education: Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) 3rd Year