Discrimination against Haitians is worrying

Dear Editor,

Quite apart from the fact that it was a diplomatic faux pas for the attorney general to have responded to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) so rashly, his emotive knee jerk defense of The Bahamas was in substance wrong.

One fundamental example will suffice to discredit.

He said: “Our immigration officers do not deport persons willy-nilly. In fact, the immigration department does not have the power to deport. It is the court that deports.”

This is incorrect and misleading because it seeks to clothe deportations with an apparent cloak of judicial legitimacy.

Under Section 40 of the Immigration Act, deportation orders are made by the minister of immigration.

Further, even that simple process is not adhered to. Thousands of persons are regularly “expelled” in breach of Article 25 of the constitution or they are euphemistically “repatriated” with no due process.

Human Rights Bahamas (HRB) challenges the government to publish “deportation orders” for the last 5,000 expulsions.

In a recent statement responding to the OHCHR’s call for deportations to be put on hold after Hurricane Dorian, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated: “[T]he Bahamas wishes to assure that there was adherence to all due process; and the requisite procedures for proper documentation via captured biometrics were followed to determine every individual’s constitutional right to reside lawfully in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. Persons found wanting and in violation of the Immigration Act were lawfully removed, in accordance with the requisite court orders.”

There is no law which requires any person to be “documented” in The Bahamas. There is no law which requires any person to have any paper proving their immigration or citizenship status. Every person is protected by the constitutional presumption of innocence and has a right to move freely throughout The Bahamas.

Despite the law, if a person does not have a document evidencing citizenship, residency, or work visa, they become victims of immigration abuse.

This is challenging to the thousands of persons born in The Bahamas, but who are in limbo.

These are the “citizens in waiting”, who are either still under 18, or who have applied for registration under Article 7 of the constitution, or who did not apply but have done so under section 9 of the Nationality Act, (many of whom have been waiting for their applications to be considered for years) or who did not apply and are simply in citizenship limbo.

It is really to these many thousands of persons of Haitian ethnic origin that the spectre of systemic immigration abuse is most real and terrifying.

These are the “undocumented”, with rights to be in The Bahamas, but who are lumped together with the “illegal migrants” and treated as outlaws with no rights.

And this is the case with the majority of the victims of Dorian from the Haitian ethnic communities of the shantytowns of The Mudd, Pigeon Peas, Sand Banks etc. from the Abacos.

In breach of the constitution and international conventions and human rights norms, The Bahamas continues to lump the many different categories of persons of Haitian ethnic origin in The Bahamas as “illegal migrants” and continues to treat such persons as guilty until they can prove their innocence.

It was a truly low moment in the history of The Bahamas when the shantytown communities in Abaco became targets of ethnic discrimination and vilification.

The hunt for the Abaco Haitians is on!

Immigration officers are now stationed at the domestic airports and harbors, looking intimidating in their battle fatigues, and randomly questioning and demanding papers from any victim of their suspicion.

This has resulted in so many victims of Dorian in Abaco, who may be undocumented, hiding and being unable to take advantage of what is being provided to everyone else, being unable to travel, families being separated and unable to go back to what is left of their homes.

An example of the rank discrimination pervading government’s thinking, was the publication of a building prohibition order only as against the shantytowns and not against anybody else in Abaco.

The Bahamas continues to abuse the human and constitutional rights of persons of Haitian ethnic origin and in the pursuit of this obsession, the rights of all other persons in The Bahamas are being sacrificed.

It is a perverse denial of the truth for The Bahamas government to continue to parrot, both domestically and internationally, that it is a Christian nation that respects the rule of law.

— Human Rights Bahamas

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