Xenophobia, ungratefulness and knee-jerk policymaking
The recent pronouncement by Attorney General Carl Bethel advising work permit holders – legal residents of The Bahamas — to “go home” if their place of employment was destroyed by Hurricane Dorian discredits The Bahamas and subjects us to accusations of being insensitive and uncaring.
Such a narrow, parochial interpretation of the law is unbecoming of The Bahamas in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.
The unsolicited international response to our recent tragedy was unprecedented, magnanimous and compassionate.
It is generally accepted that no single country can respond to cataclysmic disasters without outside help; hence the creation of emergency relief agencies at all regional and international organizations.
For many stranded victims of Dorian the first rescuers reaching them were not Bahamian, they were American or British or Dutch Coast Guard and military personnel.
Search and rescue canine units were deployed from American cities that reached out seeking to reduce the anxieties of survivors not knowing the fate of loved ones and friends.
For countless others the nationality of doctors and nurses treating them in makeshift field hospitals and in barely-functioning community health clinics were American, Canadian, Jamaican and Nigerian and so on.
Emergency supplies of water, food, clothes, first aid and sanitary products came from organized international relief agencies of the United Nations and the Organization of American States, the Caribbean Community and from the International Red Cross, the World Food Programme, Water Missions, Samaritan’s Purse, International Medical Corps and from vacation and second homeowners — overwhelmingly foreign nationals and largely American, who notwithstanding their own considerable loss as a result of the storm, organized and or personally donated emergency relief and assistance to affected Bahamians residents.
Gaps in security on the ground in storm-torn neighborhoods and at relief storage depots have been filled with the assistance of Jamaican and Trinidadian defense forces.
Shamefully, under the circumstances, newspaper reports and opinions shared on social media are filled with calls for foreigners to get out and for no assistance to be lent to Haitian nationals found in The Bahamas.
A shifting government policy on the treatment of undocumented individuals previously resident on Abaco or Grand Bahama provides no leadership on the subject.
The government’s initial response to the status of non-Bahamians on storm-ravaged islands and in our emergency shelters was dignified and what is expected and required from a democratic and humane administration.
The Cabinet minister responsible for immigration, Elsworth Johnson, advised that his department was “concentrating on assisting with the humanitarian efforts to rescue and save lives regardless of place of origin, nationality or immigration status”.
Then, following a hue and cry on social media and shameful political pandering by some politicians, the government’s position changed.
Notifications about the continuation of deportations of undocumented persons found outside of Abaco and Grand Bahama were given new prominence including advice that being resident in an emergency shelter would not protect undocumented evacuees from deportation.
Additionally, residents were warned of hefty penalties for those found harboring the undocumented.
Now, the attorney general has added his tactless warning to work permit holders engaged in pre-Dorian Abaco and Grand Bahama.
Credible reports have reached us of immigration department searches being conducted at airports and on mail boats headed to Abaco, Eleuthera and Exuma seeking to identify undocumented individuals for deportation.
Reportedly, 26 persons including a mother and her three-week-old child were detained and committed to the Detention Center.
Seven of those detained had to be released when it was discovered that they were legally present in The Bahamas.
Fifteen detainees apparently could not prove any connection to either Grand Bahama or Abaco; one was discovered to have been approved for a work permit, but the fee had not yet been paid and one was found to be an illegal immigrant.
We strongly encourage the government to bring thoughtful consideration to public pronouncements being made in its name before The Bahamas is tarred as a chauvinistic, racist country and a pariah of the international community.