Law enforcement officers arrested 109 people reportedly squatting at the A&B Church on Crocket Drive in Marsh Harbour, Abaco, Saturday morning, according to Immigration Director Clarence Russell.
Area residents moved onto the premises over the last several months without the permission of the church’s trustees and the property owners, Russell told The Nassau Guardian.
Russell said after the pastor died post Hurricane Dorian “it is believed area residents of foreign ethnicity moved in and took over the church property, turning it into a place not of worship but one of a residence, selling all manner of things”.
He said the trustees of the church complained to police asking for the people to be removed.
“Law enforcement surveilled the premises, gathered intel for weeks and subsequently launched a joint law enforcement operation at 5 a.m. this morning on said premises,” he said.
He continued, “Based on information recently revealed on social media and local news, one of the community’s greatest concern, was of these area residents, who were not maintaining ‘social distancing’ nor observing proper hygiene practices, or curfews at all, placing everyone on the island under health risk in this COVID-19 current environment.
“The local doctor and health team conducted preliminary tests of all persons taken into custody, resulting in negative results.”
Russell told The Guardian that 102 males and seven females were taken into custody.
He said 35 people were found to be illegally residing in The Bahamas and will all be prosecuted.
He added there were three Bahamians among the group; they were released with a “stern warning”.
He said there was one person who appeared “mental” and was released into the custody of a local caretaker.
Fourteen people who claimed to be Bahamian citizens will have to produce valid documents or be prosecuted, he said.
The director said 31 had valid permits and were released with a warning that they could be prosecuted if found there again.
Nine people had expired permits and will be prosecuted, Russell said.
Six possessed valid permit extensions and will be released, he said.
There were five people among the group who had submitted new permit applications who were released, and another seven people whose applications were pending payment who were also released.
Russell’s breakdown did not align with the overall number he said was taken into custody.
Russell said the Royal Bahamas Police Force, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, the Department of Immigration, and health officials participated in the operation, which was focused on searching for “wanted persons, dangerous drugs, firearms, and illegals”.
Arraignments are expected to take place Monday morning in the Magistrate’s Court in Marsh Harbour.