The government must remain “very sensitive” while dealing with undocumented migrants in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest declared yesterday.
His comments come amid public concern over how the government would treat undocumented migrants from islands impacted by Hurricane Dorian – the strongest storm to hit The Bahamas.
Minister of Immigration Elsworth Johnson has said the government will enforce its immigration laws, noting that hurricane shelters will not be used “to circumvent the law”.
While speaking to reporters outside Cabinet, Turnquest said, “We have to handle the matter with sensitivity because there has unfortunately been so much social media misinformation and sensationalism that has gone out that it has raised the ire of the Bahamian community.
“Unfortunately, sometimes we make some statements in anger that may have an incorrect impression on who we are as a people and our concern about these people as humans.
“We have to ensure that the international community understands our response, understands that we are responsible members of the global community and we appreciate our obligation to ensure that human rights are respected in all the things that we do in managing this situation that we have.”
He said the government wants to be “careful with respect to the impressions that are given to the international community as to how we are handling the migrant situation”.
However, Turnquest said the government still remains “resolute with respect to illegal migration”.
“You know, I wouldn’t want to say much more about that as the minister of immigration has been very capably handling this matter, but again we are resolute with respect to managing the inflow of illegal migrants and we will continue to execute the laws of The Bahamas with respect to immigration,” he said.
Turnquest added, “Let me say that those persons who have a legal right to be here — either through permanent residency or citizenship or through a work permit that is active – they are free to do and conduct their business as they have always done.”
The immigration issue has come back into the spotlight in the weeks following Dorian, which decimated parts of Grand Bahama and Abaco, where several shantytowns were destroyed.
On Sunday, Johnson told The Nassau Guardian that the government intends to enforce the immigration laws. He said if there are undocumented migrants in shelters, they, too, would be repatriated.
In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, the government had announced that repatriation of storm victims who are illegal immigrants was on hold.
Yesterday, when pressed on whether the government would enter shelters and apprehend migrants, Johnson said, “No, I gave a caveat when I spoke to you. What I said is we are Bahamians and we will conduct ourselves with the dignity and courtesy that this situation requires.
“So, just like we don’t go into schools [and] churches, we will not allow a home or a church to be used as a mechanism to circumvent the law. And so, one will not, for example, one will not be allowed to stay in the shelter and say, ‘I just don’t want to leave because I know outside the police is waiting.’
“Or, ‘I don’t want to leave because I know outside that they’re going to be checking.’
“I was careful to say that Hurricane Dorian did not work a miracle. So, if you were undocumented before Hurricane Dorian, you remain undocumented after Hurricane Dorian if you didn’t go through the right process.”
Johnson said apprehensions throughout The Bahamas, including Abaco and Grand Bahama, are ongoing.