Many former residents of the Sand Banks shantytown in Treasure Cay, Abaco, are afraid of what comes next after the government demolished the ruins of their homes over the weekend, Pastor Ilfrenord Charles said yesterday.
Charles, the pastor of New Haitian Mission Baptist Church in Treasure Cay, said he is thankful that no one from Sand Banks died during Hurricane Dorian, which ripped through Abaco last month.
Sand Banks, and the few remaining homes in it, was torn down over the weekend after Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis gave the order.
Charles said that some residents are worried about being repatriated.
“I cannot lie, some of them [are] scared to go,” he said.
“They’re scared because they don’t have no money. They don’t have [anywhere] to go.”
Minister of Immigration Elsworth Johnson said yesterday that it is not inhumane to deport undocumented migrants who were affected by Hurricane Dorian to Haiti.
“There are flights flying in and out of the Republic of Haiti,” he said.
“Persons have made suggestions, but at the end of the day, we must do what is in the best interest of The Bahamas while still protecting the dignity of the human person. We have tried our best to do that.
“Ask anybody if they have seen any large or mass deportation. I don’t know where they are getting these things from.”
Minnis has said the government will resume deportations of those migrants who are in the country illegally.
“Individuals who are here illegally will be deported,” he said.
“I explained all of that too. I explained that I will do it in a humane manner. We will ask individuals to leave voluntarily at first. Those who don’t leave will be forced.”
But the move has been met with pushback from international bodies. A Haitian rights group in Florida called the policy “racist”.
In an editorial over the weekend, the Miami Herald called on Minnis to “show the same compassion he did immediately after the storm and not be swayed by politics”.
“The Bahamas is a sovereign nation with the right to legislate its immigration policies as it sees fit,” the Herald wrote.
“But the government’s restrictions on Haitian residents’ ability to return to communities such as The Mudd and Sand Banks by banning any rebuilding, after they’ve been sequestered in shelters, sounds like a land grab, an attempt to get rid of a population that was never welcome in the first place.”
Charles, 60, has been helping a group of 59 displaced residents from Sand Banks. His church is now a shelter.
During the day, he said, residents of the church go out into the community hoping to find work.
He said the group is still struggling to find adequate food and water.
He claims that the majority of the inhabitants in the church hope to find jobs that will enable them to build stronger homes, as he said many of them claim to have work permits.
However, Attorney General Carl Bethel has said that storm migrants who no longer have jobs “need to go home” regardless of whether their work permit is expired or not.
Minnis has said that the government will acquire shantytown properties on Abaco through compulsory acquisition.
Asked about this, Charles said, “We’re sad, but we pray to God. Plenty Christians are inside [here].
“We [can’t] say [anything] because we don’t buy property. We just build our house. We don’t know what to do. We cannot say nothing.”
When The Nassau Guardian visited Charles’ church last week, many evacuees said they were concerned about their future.
Jean Baptiste Estinete, who claims to have a work permit, has been living in The Bahamas for 10 months.
“Everyone is worried about our future,” he said.
“We don’t know what’s going to be happening in the future. So, we stay here.”