Haitians living in church on Abaco hope for future in Bahamas

TREASURE CAY, Abaco — Jean Baptiste Estinete, like many of the evacuees staying at the New Haitian Mission Baptist Church, claims he has a work permit but no job.

He hasn’t found work since Hurricane Dorian ripped through the island a month ago. He has no home and his future is uncertain.

Born in Port-de-Paix, Haiti, Baptiste Estinete said he has been in The Bahamas for 10 months. He came to live with his older brother in the Sand Banks shantytown, he said.

Now he’s living in a church.

Sand Banks is no more. Only three or four of the hundreds of homes still stand.

“Everyone is worried about our future,” he told The Nassau Guardian yesterday.

“We don’t know what’s going to be happening in the future. So we stay here.”

He said everyone is anxiously waiting to see what the government does with the Haitians who survived Dorian.

On Monday, Attorney General Carl Bethel told The Tribune that migrant storm victims who lost their jobs need to go home, even if their work permits have yet to expire.

The Department of Immigration also warned that the government will enforce all immigration laws.

The news had not made it to Abaco yet.

Baptiste Estinete said he’s waiting on the “last word” from his employer as to whether he still has a job.

He said he’s willing to go back to Haiti if it comes to that, but he said he’s hoping to find a place to live and to find work on Abaco.

Inside the New Haitian Mission Baptist Church yesterday, they were sprawled on cots, sleeping and snoring. Others were in front, talking about life.

Some sat in the pews. There were only 10 of them in total, all Haitians.

The New Haitian Mission Baptist Church welcomed them all during Hurricane Dorian and continues to shelter them. Supplies hugged the walls but outside storm clouds were forming.

The majority of the inhabitants were from Sand Banks.

Pastor Ilfrenord Charles said 62 people were living in the church. He said the majority of them go to Treasure Cay to look for work during the day.

The church, he said, is in constant need of supplies, especially water.

Nelson Jean, 51, who also claims to be a work permit holder, said he has been in The Bahamas for 25 years.

Selatfaryn (left) and Nelson Jean.

He said he is a construction worker.

He too is waiting to see what the government says and what it does to the Haitians on Abaco.

He asked what The Nassau Guardian thought would happen.

“What do you think they will do to us?” he asked.

Another man, seated next to him, Selatfaryn, 67, said he has been living on Abaco for 30 years. He too said he has a work permit.

“I preach the gospel and I’m a housekeeper,” he said via a translator.

He doesn’t want to leave Abaco.

Elaine and Willie Mae, two women a few pews away from Jean, agreed.

“We don’t want to return to Haiti,” the women said.

There is little between Marsh Harbour and Treasure Cay except for pine trees and wild pigs.

Outside the church, there’s a makeshift clothesline.

On the opposite side, a group watched as Bernard, another Haitian national, roasted a wild pig. A little girl watched him in apparent excitement.

Baptiste Estinete said he understands why people are cautioning Haitians from returning to Abaco.

“Right now, sometimes they bring us food, they bring us something but there is no better life here,” he said.

“All the people in Nassau know they have to take their time.

“I don’t blame them for telling people not to come back.”

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Travis Cartwright-Carroll

Travis Cartwright-Carroll is the assistant editor. He covers a wide range of national issues. He joined The Nassau Guardian in 2011 as a copy editor before shifting to reporting. He was promoted to assistant news editor in December 2018. Education: College of The Bahamas, English

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