Another human rights group is calling on the government to halt deportations of undocumented migrants following Hurricane Dorian, claiming Bahamian officials are using the storm “as an opportunity to target and deport Haitian migrants”.
Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) Human Rights, an American non-profit advocacy organization, said, “With the government using the national tragedy of Hurricane Dorian as an opportunity to target and deport Haitian migrants, regardless of their legal status, victims in shelters now face an impossible decision – return to rebuild a destroyed community and risk arrest or remain in a shelter under the threat of imminent deportation.”
It continued, “Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights calls on The Bahamas to halt deportations, respect the human rights of all individuals in the country, including migrants, and urges the international community to support the Bahamian government in providing relief to the hurricane victims and rebuilding the affected communities in an inclusive manner.”
RFK said it was “gravely concerned” with the government’s treatment of migrants, especially Haitians, in the aftermath of Dorian – the strongest storm on record to hit The Bahamas.
It accused the government of using “migrants’ vulnerability in the wake of the hurricane to “escalate efforts to deport them”.
“Prime Minister Hubert Minnis initially declared deportations of migrants suspended but, within a month, he reversed this position and announced that undocumented migrants affected by the hurricane have ‘no special protection’ in shelters and will face deportation,” RFK said.
“Further, Abaco residents have been banned from returning home and rebuilding. The government ramped up its efforts to demolish shantytowns that house a large population of migrants leaving them homeless.
“Simultaneously, it has been reported that newly constructed relief facilities in Abaco have prioritized displaced Bahamians with documentation over the large number of victims who have lost their documentation.”
RFK also said that “discriminatory” policies against Haitians and Haitian-Bahamians have “long been a problem” in The Bahamas.
On October 11, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) urged The Bahamas to end deportations to Haiti for now, amid concerns over the government’s immigration policy and the treatment of undocumented Haitian migrants after Dorian.
It claimed Haitians impacted by the hurricane are panicking “and reports are emerging of people leaving temporary shelters for fear of arrest, and of people failing to avail themselves of necessary humanitarian services or going into hiding”.
The government, however, said it has had no such reports.
Attorney General Carl Bethel later said that it is “unfortunate” that international organizations like the United Nations (UN) would apply standards to small countries like The Bahamas “that they do not enforce in their own countries”.
The attorney general added that the UN should not “prejudge an issue based on something that they would’ve heard…from some social activist group”.
On October 19, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) defended the government’s decision to deport Haitian nationals in the weeks after Dorian, insisting that it did so in accordance with international standards and Bahamian law.
It said the repatriation policy was relaxed to ensure the safety, security and well-being of all persons regardless of their nationality. It added that all displaced persons were accommodated in safe abodes, whether with family members or an authorized shelter.
The ministry said the policy was resumed “once the urgent search and rescue phase had passed and a semblance of normalcy returned to the country”.