Bahamas Christian Council President Bishop Delton Fernander yesterday said the government must deal “compassionately and systematically” when it comes to the treatment of undocumented migrants displaced from Abaco and Grand Bahama in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.
His comments followed Attorney General Carl Bethel reportedly saying on Monday that displaced migrants “need to go home” regardless of whether their work permit is expired or not.
“We must also be mindful as there are those through the system who would’ve lost documents, or who would’ve been given due course and be given the benefit of the process,” Fernander said.
“We want to be open and visual on that as the Christian church – that we don’t haphazardly treat people who have a right to be here [unfairly] and those who have permits, if the permits are no longer executable, let’s not throw everybody in the same basket.
“Let’s bit by bit and systematically and compassionately go through this process and come up with the best solution that balances the law with our humanitarian, Christ-like spirit.”
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, the government indefinitely suspended the deportation of undocumented immigrants from the impacted islands.
At the time Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson said that individuals affected by Dorian had nothing to worry about as the country was facing a humanitarian crisis.
He also encouraged everyone affected by the storm to take advantage of social services, shelters, and healthcare provided.
This past Sunday, Johnson said undocumented migrants in shelters will face deportation, noting that the facilities (shelters) will not be used “to circumvent the law.”
While Fernander believes that shelters should not be raided, he said that the law should be enforced in this regard.
He explained that when the shelters close, those with legal status will transition into temporary housing and become a part of the labor force.
Those who are undocumented, he said, will not receive those benefits.
He said: “Those who do not have their paperwork because of the storm, and those who have seemingly been in the process and never dealt with, they have the channels, including the church, where they can make their petition to. We will speak on their behalf.”
Since the passage of Hurricane Dorian, Fernander also indicated that the church has participated in counseling some of the 70,000 individuals who were displaced on Abaco and Grand Bahama regardless of their status.
Fernander said many pastors have received training in this regard from members of the Bahamas Psychological Association (BPA) to provide psychosocial support.
According to BPA President Dr. Wendy Fernander, 250-300 pastors and spiritual leaders were trained at their first session earlier this month.