Damaging The Bahamas’ international reputation
The xenophobia that exploded on social media after Hurricane Dorian should have been met by forceful official rejection by the government. Instead, it influenced the government into backtracking on the suspension of repatriations of undocumented Haitian nationals to riot-torn Haiti.
From the floor of the House of Assembly, the prime minister advised all undocumented persons, a code for Haitians, “to leave voluntarily or … be forced to leave”.
And he instructed his attorney general to acquire the land upon which shantytowns were located. Two of the three shantytowns, The Mudd and Sand Banks, are on Crown lands.
The other shanty, Pigeon Peas, has been publicly declared available for sale by its private owner.
Ten days ago, The Bahamas repatriated the first group of undocumented individuals to Haiti since Hurricane Dorian.
As a signatory to the United Nations Charter and Party to its Human Rights Conventions, these actions brought us into closer association with rogue governments.
Then the attorney general justifies the government’s actions by asserting that some members of international organizations do not observe established standards.
And now, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs suggests that repatriations have resumed as a “semblance of normalcy returned to the country”.
Perhaps the ministry is unaware that hundreds of persons remain missing and that electricity and potable water supplies are yet to be restored in and debris yet to be removed from some communities on both Abaco and Grand Bahama.
The resumption of deportations of undocumented Haitians to their home country, in the midst of serious civil disorder there, is bringing The Bahamas into disrepute in the international community even at a time when we were ourselves the recipient of so much goodwill from members and agencies of that same community.
The claim that the government is acting humanely by deporting individuals to Haiti now is unconvincing especially in light of the recent trauma experienced by some deportees and the tumultuous conditions occurring in Haiti.
Humane is the entrance granted to many Bahamian storm refugees into South Florida, hosted in their majority by friends and family there.
Humane was Catholic charities paying rent for some 20 of those families who found no hosts.
Humane were the fishermen from Spanish Wells who rescued hundreds from Abaco and its cays, bringing them to safety in North Eleuthera and Spanish Wells.
Humane were the actions of brave Grand Bahamians who risked their lives to rescue neighbors, friends and strangers from flooded homes and failed shelters.
Humane was the response of the U.S. Coast Guard and USAID in providing emergency response to stranded and injured victims of Dorian.
Humane was the response of British, Dutch and international relief agencies.
Humane was the security assistance provided by Jamaican and Trinidadian defence forces following the storm.
Humane were the American, Canadian and other citizens and charities who delivered and continue to bring emergency food, water and medical supplies to communities on Grand Bahama and Abaco and its cays, some claiming not to have seen representatives of the government for weeks after the storm and to have never received a single supply of water.
Humane are the foreign doctors and nurses who provided emergency and essential care and medications, some vital for the treatment of diabetes and hypertension, to storm victims when government clinics were abandoned by medical staff from Nassau.
Humane was the response of World Central Kitchen, an organization that has provided more than 100,000 meals to storm victims.
Humane was the response of ordinary Bahamians who made donations, organized supplies and took storm victims into homes.
Humane has been Samaritan’s Purse which set up an emergency hospital on Grand Bahama to stand-in for storm-wrecked Rand Memorial Hospital.
What is not humane, what is demagoguery, is an immigration policy that dictates that Haitian nationals be hunted down and rounded up and detained; many of whom must then be released when they are determined to be legitimately present in the country as citizens, permanent residents, work permit holders or visitors.