A group of protestors demonstrated in front of Kendal G. L. Isaacs Gymnasium on Saturday, demanding the government repatriate all Haitians residing there after Hurricane Dorian — but it is unclear whether the people being housed there are undocumented migrants.
At various times, the demonstrators, who are members of the advocacy group Operation Sovereign Bahamas, chanted, “No more citizenship; no more work permit.”
Standing in the rain in front of about a dozen protestors in black shirts, the group’s director, Adrian Francis, said, “There’s all kind of flights leaving to go to Haiti. There are all kind of boats. For the most part, the job is this: we can repatriate.”
In a video of the demonstration, a protestor shouted, “We want y’all out our country.”
Francis said he loved the symbolism of the inclement weather.
“You know, what’s amazing is they had to come through the water to come to The Bahamas, so we’re going through water today so they know and understand that we ain’t never scared,” he said.
“Ain’t no water gonna stop the process…to restore the dignity of our country.
“The persons who [are] inside this gym, they need to know and understand that it’s time for us to get the gym back. Now, it’s not personal.”
Attorney General Carl Bethel said yesterday the government doesn’t think it’s “advisable for people to demonstrate against common humanity”.
“People who are in distress because of a natural disaster are deserving of the attention of the state so long as they are in distress,” Bethel told The Nassau Guardian.
Dorian ravaged communities on Abaco and Grand Bahama in early September.
The storm left thousands displaced, hundreds missing and at least 67 dead.
As of two weeks ago, 777 storm victims were still living in hurricane shelters.
On Saturday, during the demonstration, Francis called on the government to provide the public with its plan for the future of the non-Bahamian storm victims in the shelters, especially those in the gymnasium.
“The gym is not a hotel,” he said.
“It’s not built for sex drives. You know for some reason the government entered this process without an exit plan.”
Francis added, “We need to know what the exit plan is. The government of The Bahamas needs to give us an idea on how long these persons are [going to] be in the gym.”
While insisting that the demonstration was not motivated by hatred, Francis called on the government to work with Operation Sovereign Bahamas to introduce a program called “Operation Front Door”.
“‘Operation Front Door’ really is a plan for the government to have all the persons who are inside the gymnasium evacuated and sent back to Haiti,” said Francis yesterday when reached for a comment.
“If you have documents, we’re asking you to come back through the front door. If you don’t have documents, we’re asking you to leave the country.”
Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson said yesterday the government would not hinder the organization’s right to free expression.
However, he said, “We have to be dispassionate. There are already regulations in place which identify that only fit and proper persons, who are in the best interests of peace and good [governance] of The Bahamas, should be in The Bahamas.
“Once persons are justifiably here in The Bahamas, they are here and we have to protect the dignity of those persons – whether they are documented or undocumented.”
The government has deported more than 200 Haitians since October 19, according to Giuseppe Loprete, the chief of the International Organization for Migration’s mission in Haiti.
Last week, Loprete expressed concern with the deportations in the wake of Dorian – the strongest storm on record to hit The Bahamas.
“They will experience the same difficulties everyone is having in Haiti,” Loprete said on Wednesday.
“In addition, they are certainly traumatized, they had a job and they had their living in The Bahamas but they lost everything suddenly. There is a risk of stigma for those who failed; starting over will not be easy.”
In recent weeks, the government faced backlash after announcing its intention to enforce immigration laws and deport undocumented migrants, even those impacted by Dorian.
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, the government announced that the repatriation of storm victims, who are undocumented migrants, was on hold. Not long after, it said repatriation of all undocumented migrants had resumed.
In September, Johnson said undocumented migrants would not be allowed to stay in shelters.
“Most certainly, those shelters will not be used as a mechanism to circumvent the law,” he said. “The government of The Bahamas fully appreciates that we are a country of laws. We’re governed by the rule of law.”
Several human rights groups have accused the government of targeting Haitians with its policies and sending them to a country with civil unrest.