Where do they go?
Many of the Haitian migrants who lived in the slums on Abaco have nowhere to go.
Those refugees, who fled Haiti for economic and political reasons, were forced from Abaco because of Hurricane Dorian.
Their homes in The Mudd, Pigeon Peas and Sand Banks, all shantytowns on Abaco, were destroyed during the storm.
And now the government is moving to acquire the land.
For many Haitian migrants, they are refugees once again.
Where do they go?
Those with no status will likely be deported to Haiti in turmoil.
Protestors have taken to the streets in Haiti, demanding the resignation of Haitian President Jovenel Moise. There is unrest and violence.
The United Nations human rights agency has asked that those Haitian migrants who survived Dorian receive clemency.
“We are concerned about the deportation of 112 Haitian migrants from The Bahamas to Haiti last Thursday, including people from the Abaco islands, which were badly hit by the destruction caused by Hurricane Dorian in September this year,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Rupert Colville said in an October 11 statement.
“We call on the government to refrain from deporting individuals who lack documentation, without the individual assessments and due process guarantees to which they are entitled under international law.
“Haitian migrants have often found themselves in positions of vulnerability in The Bahamas, as documented by UN human rights mechanisms. Many of them lived in informal settlements that were destroyed by the hurricane, losing their documents, jobs and belongings.
“While Bahamian authorities had initially said immigration enforcement activities would be suspended in the affected islands, this position was publicly reversed at the end of September, when they announced that all migrants without valid documents would be apprehended and deported.
“This has led to panic among Haitians affected by Hurricane Dorian, and reports are emerging of people leaving temporary shelters for fear of arrest, and of people failing to avail themselves of necessary humanitarian services or going into hiding.
“There have also been deeply worrying discriminatory public declarations against Haitians, as well as messages of xenophobia and intolerance in the media. We are concerned that such narratives may lead to further stigmatization of or violence against migrants and minorities.
“In the aftermath of natural disasters, it is particularly important to ensure that the most vulnerable, marginalized communities do not suffer from discrimination in accessing their fundamental rights to food, water, shelter and other basic needs. We urge the government to ensure that no one is left behind in the recovery efforts.
“We encourage the government to put in place procedures that facilitate access to documents for all those who had legal documents prior to Dorian – particularly those who may be either stateless or at risk of statelessness – and to ensure they have access to independent legal counsel. We call on the authorities to halt any further deportations to Haiti at the moment.”
The Minnis administration will likely not be swayed by this statement.
In the aftermath of Dorian, the government moved swiftly to prevent migrants from rebuilding in the ruins of the shantytowns and later announced a plan to compulsorily acquire the land.
Those residents, many who fled to New Providence, face an uncertain future.
Some claim to have work permits, but Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis has said that even they are not safe.
“Well individuals have work permits but you must understand that that work permit may have been for a particular type of employment,” he said.
“That employment might no longer exist; therefore, that work permit is no longer valid and therefore one has to assess the situation.”
We spoke to migrants from the Sand Banks shantytown, many of whom claimed to have work permits. One man said he was in The Bahamas for 10 months; another said he had been here for 30 years. Both said they have work permits.
While it is reasonable to tell the migrant who was here for 10 months to leave, how do you tell the one who has been here for 30 years?
The matter should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
Then there are those migrants with no status.
“There are flights flying in and out of the Republic of Haiti,” Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson has 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.”
Attorney General Carl Bethel has said that no one in the shelters on New Providence are being asked for documents, but he indicated that that will change once they start to leave and reenter society.
“At some point in time people are going to move out of the shelters… they are going to seek to make arrangements for employment, etc.,” Bethel told the Miami Herald.
“At that point it’s a legitimate inquiry. You’re no longer a refugee, you’re moving out and seeking to move into the mainstream again. But enter that mainstream in the correct way.”
While it is understandable that the government must enforce its immigration laws, this move smacks of political expediency.
Many Bahamians have been calling for the expulsion of Haitian migrants who were on Abaco and Grand Bahama.
There is a fear amongst Bahamians that Haitians will take over The Bahamas. There is a fear that Haitians will outnumber Bahamians and create civil unrest in The Bahamas. There is a fear that one day The Bahamas will have a Haitian prime minister or one with Haitian ancestry.
These fears are repeated on the airwaves ad nauseam. But this is how many Bahamians feel. Is it xenophobic? Yes.
In 2017, the prime minister warned all illegal migrants in The Bahamas that they have until December 31, 2017 to leave the country, after which they would be “aggressively pursued and deported”.
But strangely enough, then Minister of Immigration Brent Symonette said that although the prime minister issued that mandate, there would be no period of amnesty.
In this instance, the government should grant a period of amnesty to those Haitians without status who survived Hurricane Dorian on Abaco.
It is the compassionate thing to do. This period should last sometime between six months to a year. The migrants should be accounted for and given some form of reprieve.
How do you deport someone who is undergoing the psychological fallout from watching a loved one die?
In 2010, in the wake of the Haiti earthquake, then Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham decided to “release on a temporary basis those Haitians awaiting repatriation at the detention center”.
Ingraham said this was the “sensible and compassionate thing to do”.
“I accept that any decision by my government would be subject to criticism from certain quarters,” Ingraham said.
“That is democracy. But my colleagues and I — as well as the majority of right-thinking Bahamians — are deeply disappointed at the torrent of misinformation, prejudice and hard-heartedness that has spewed especially from the airwaves.
“The circumstances are that the Haitian homeland and especially their capital city has been devastated by the worst catastrophe in 200 years, with tens of thousands dead and more dying every day, with people starving, with infrastructure destroyed and with governmental agencies rendered impotent.”
Many Bahamians, to this day, still criticize Ingraham for this decision.
There is no perfect immigration policy. More developed countries than The Bahamas struggle with a policy that is fair and humane.
We as a people are descendants of a displaced peoples – either former African slaves or a mixture of European or American loyalists. None of us are truly native. The Lucayans are the real natives and they are no more.
We are merely stewards of the land anyway, caretakers for another generation.
Thousands of storm evacuees from Abaco and Grand Bahama flooded New Providence and several other islands in the immediate aftermath of the storm.
We spoke to many of them. Each told a different story of horror and survival.
Sitha Silien, 27, who was staying at the Kendal G.L. Isaacs National Gymnasium, told us she may never see her mother again.
Silien was born in The Bahamas to Haitian parents. When Hurricane Dorian moved over Abaco on September 1, Silien and her family were inside their Pigeon Peas home.
She described to us the rising storm surge, the falling debris and the fight to live.
Her mother died, she said. She was hit over the head by debris. She said she tied the body to something in the home, hoping to one day return and bury her.
“I don’t want my mummy’s body to just stay there like that,” she told us.
“Even her bones, if I find them, I want to cremate them.
“I want to bury [them] on my own.”
She lost her brother too.
The story of the shelters is another story.
There are many Bahamians who volunteer at these facilities where the majority of the occupants are Haitians.
These volunteers cook food and carry supplies.
For those who leave the shelters, a new journey begins. There are no homes to return to on Abaco and apartments on New Providence are not cheap.
While some survived a deadly and catastrophic Category 5 hurricane, there is now a new fight to find some sense of normalcy.