While denying claims that there has been a significant increase in the population of a Haitian shantytown in his constituency, North Andros MP Carlton Bowleg said the shantytown “will be dealt with in very short order.”
“I can tell you personally from what I know, I don’t know of there being an increase,” Bowleg said.
“Whatever was there was always there and it was an issue at all times and that is something that will be dealt with in very short order.”
His comments came after a group, Descendants of North Andros, wrote the government expressing concern about the alleged relocation of Haitians from Abaco to Andros in the wake of Hurricane Dorian – the strongest storm to ever hit the northern Bahamas.
The September 24 letter was addressed to Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes, who chairs the government’s Shantytown Action Taskforce.
“We write to inform you that since Hurricane Dorian, there [has] been a large number of Haitian nationals who moved into the Haitian shantytown at San Andros, North Andros,” stated the letter, signed by Executive Member Haldore Russell.
He added, “This Haitian shantytown at North Andros has grown to a population of over 700 Haitian nationals living in the hundreds in shacks scattered all over our well fields.”
It is unclear how many residents were living in the shantytown before the storm.
When reached for a comment yesterday, Foulkes said, “I prefer not to, because it is a matter before the court now, I prefer not to comment on that at this point. I can confirm that I did receive the letter and that’s all I think I can say at this point.”
The Bahamas has historically grappled with the existence of shantytowns.
Last year, the government announced that shantytowns will be demolished.
Residents of most shantytowns on New Providence were given until August 10, 2018, to leave before demolition.
The government gave residents in shantytowns on Abaco until the end of July 2019 to leave.
However, in August 2018, Supreme Court Justice Cheryl Grant-Thompson granted an injunction blocking the demolition of shantytown structures.
The Supreme Court has adjourned the case several times.
Despite the injunction, the Andros group urged the government to “give North Andros your priority in the destruction of shantytowns from our country.”
“You may not be aware that these Haitian migrants are living on our well fields in the Mastic Point area and pose a dangerous health hazard to our people on North Andros,” the letter stated.
“Accordingly, we respectfully request your urgent attention to this matter before we have an outbreak of cholera and other communicable [diseases] from this illegal community.”
Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands, who was copied on the letter, declined to comment when reached yesterday.
On September 16, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said the government had decided that shantytowns were not in compliance with zoning codes.
“Thus, [they will] place individuals at health, environmental and other risks, especially at risk with hurricanes,” Minnis said.
“All individuals must comply with our code. Those facilities will not be tolerated as we are a country of law.”
On September 15, the government issued an immediate ban on the construction of any new buildings in the four major shantytowns on Abaco.
The order, which is valid for six months, mandates that “no person shall erect any new building or development for the purposes of residing or carrying out any commercial activity” in the identified areas.
The ministry said the order may be extended for further periods of up to six months “as required”.