There is no such thing as an illegal human being.
National attention in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian initially centered on the horrors of the storm’s deadly landfall but, led by government, has since switched to a disproportionate focus on Haitian nationals from Abaco.
Far too many Bahamians are now engaging in categorizing the victimhood of Dorian survivors based on one’s immigration status, watering seeds of hate that should never find good soil to germinate in our nation.
Enforcing our immigration laws in and of itself is not an act of fomenting hate and must always be carried out, but the manner of enforcement, the subtext of the process and the language and tone of the nation’s leaders can fuel ever-burning embers of hatred against foreigners — in this case Haitian nationals.
Responsible and right-thinking leadership pays due care and attention to the temperature of the citizenry, its prevailing social attitudes and how any words or actions — or lack thereof — on the part of government can have the potential to stoke flames of prejudice and inhumanity.
Notably, Acting Prime Minister Peter Turnquest, this week, in response to a weekend demonstration outside Kendal G. L. Isaacs Gymnasium shelter, said, “There is no need for the level of vitriol or prejudice that some may be putting.”
He is right, but when government attention appears to be weighted more heavily toward a single group of individuals post-Dorian, with the nation constantly hearing the words “warning” and “serving notice” and “leave by force” directed thereto, it conjures a sentiment that our most pressing threat to restoration and recovery is Haitians.
We question the extent to which recent government policies are truly in line with a desire to “put Bahamians first” given that, according to many Abaconians, most of the government’s attention and clean-up resources have been directed to Haitian shantytowns, leaving Bahamians in the rest of the island’s disaster areas to fend for themselves with the assistance of foreign aid.
Bahamian storm victims on Abaco are not exhibiting nearly the level of animus toward Haitian nationals as is being exhibited elsewhere in the country, and some have taken to social media to bemoan that tactics by officers in search of Haitian nationals seem more like “hunting wild dogs” than looking for human beings.
Thousands of Bahamians from Abaco are displaced, yet while no announcement has been made on the protocol for choosing who will occupy temporary modular housing on that island, the country is consistently being told of which Haitian nationals cannot do so.
Meanwhile, on Grand Bahama, where thousands are also displaced but where there is no problem of vexing shantytowns, the option of temporary modular homes has not been offered at all.
The classical Greek philosopher Socrates is credited with the position, “From the deepest desires often come the deadliest hate.”
Were there not an apparently deep, though largely thwarted desire, to be celebrated by the electorate, the government would level with the Bahamian people and tell them that the majority of shantytown residents in Abaco are either Bahamian citizens, permanent residents or holders of valid work and spousal permits.
Were there not an apparently deep desire to win the praise of voters, the government would devise and announce an arrangement for eligible displaced shantytown occupants to acquire land upon which they can build homes to code, since no public shelter can be used indefinitely regardless of the occupants.
Were there not an apparently deep desire to capitalize on the fruits of political expediency even if it means riding a wave of xenophobia that in the end hurts us all, the government would step up and quell cultural tensions and stem the present tide of hatred and animosity toward Haitian nationals in the aftermath of tragedy.
Bahamians deeply desire a better way of life, and part of the struggle for some rests in the belief that their desire is being thwarted by everyone who is not Bahamian.
As such, longstanding resentment against foreign nationals exists that should not be stirred for temporary benefit in what remains a complex migration dilemma for The Bahamas.
Enforce our laws, but keep at the forefront of Bahamians the message that there is no such thing as an illegal human being.
Otherwise disdain, aversion and hate on the basis of nationality or immigration status, can only fester and grow.