A woman who fled a tyrannical Haitian regime on board a wooden sloop as a teenager 43 years ago, said she has been waiting nearly 40 years for the grant of her Bahamian citizenship after falling in love with and marrying a Bahamian man.
Jacqueline, 62, whose name has been changed because she fears retribution, began her perilous journey to a new life on an overcrowded boat from the northern region of Haiti in 1976.
Unlike some Haitians who come to The Bahamas by boat, Jacqueline does not live as an undocumented migrant. She has a work permit which grants her permission to live and work in The Bahamas.
She said she applied for Bahamian citizenship in the early-1980s after she got married.
However, she is still waiting, even after her husband’s death.
“I’ve spent thousands of dollars on the immigration process so right now I’m just moving on faith,” Jacqueline said.
Pointing to a pile of receipts scattered on the desk in front of her, she said, “I’ve gone through this process maybe three or four times but they keep telling me that something is missing. One time, I need my husband’s death certificate. Another time, I need my daughter and my grandson’s birth certificate and another time I need a police record. They always want more.”
She added, “If they don’t want to give me citizenship, they should just let me know. Some people are applying and doing the right things and exactly what the government is asking of us and still the government is still turning us around. It’s not fair.”
Jacqueline said the immigration process can be discouraging sometimes, but at least it means she has a chance to maintain the life she has become accustomed to over the decades.
As she folded her arms, she became stoic and recalled how her life in The Bahamas came to be.
She said when she was 19 years old, she got on a boat bound for “Nassau”.
“I thought I was going to die,” she told The Nassau Guardian.
“The boat kept rocking and moving, non-stop for days. It was terrible.”
Jacqueline said she spent one week squeezed between more than 30 other Haitians on the deck of the dinghy.
Everyone on the boat was fleeing the political tyranny of then Haitian President Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, with most facing limiting access to economic and social opportunities in Haiti.
Each of her six nights on the boat was hellish as they journeyed across stormy waters in search of “a better life in Nassau”.
Jacqueline recalled the sounds of men and women moaning and crying during the trip.
She also remembered the stomach-churning smell of dried vomit and urine on the deck, which filled the nostrils of many of the passengers on board.
She said some of the vomit belonged to her.
“It was not a good time,” Jacqueline said.
“It was scary. I cried and I was sick the entire time. I kept vomiting because the sea was stormy. I couldn’t eat anything.”
During the trip, passengers were given white rice, fish and chicken to eat while on board.
“We left Au Bogne and we came straight to Nassau,” she said.
Asked why she endured the treacherous journey to The Bahamas, Jacqueline said, “I left Haiti because there was no work.”
She said she arrived on Bahamian soil on a rainy afternoon in mid-July.
“I was scared when I first came,” Jacqueline said.
“I said I wanted to go back to Haiti because I didn’t have anything. I only knew my cousin, who would treat me good.”
She said she had difficulties finding work and she was often underpaid by employers.
While noting that some members of the Haitian community have had bad experiences with the Department of Immigration, Jacqueline said she did not have many similar experiences.
“A bad one was 13 years ago when my grandson was a baby,” she said.
“Police came knocking on our door around three or four in the morning. They were doing immigration’s job. They asked my daughter if I had any papers.
“My daughter tell them, ‘Why you need her papers? Do you need mine or something like that?’
“We had to see their ID through the window. They showed it so we let them in. My daughter showed them my documents and her passport and they left.”
Jacqueline said incidents like those can be scary but she is willing to endure them until she is granted her citizenship.
“I have faith that God will make sure I’m okay,” she told The Nassau Guardian.
“Everything will be okay. Everything will work out. I haven’t seen my mother since 2007 so I hope soon I will be on a plane headed back to Haiti to see her more times with my citizenship in hand.”
Education: Goldsmith, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice
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