Ten Haitian migrants who were caught entering the country illegally were each fined $3,000 and sentenced to one year in prison after they were found to be repeat offenders, the Department of Immigration said yesterday.
They were among 56 Haitians – 50 men and six women – that appeared before Magistrate Kara Turnquest-Deveaux on Monday.
“A check of the border control management system revealed that 10 of the migrants convicted were repeated offenders,” a statement from the department said.
All 56 individuals pleaded guilty to the charge of illegal landing, the department said. Forty-six of the migrants were ordered to be deported, according to the department.
On November 9, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) intercepted the migrants near Deadman’s Cay, Long Island.
In recent weeks, more than two dozen Haitians were convicted of a variety of immigration violations and sent to the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services.
Last month, Haitian Charge d’Affaires Dorval Darlier raised concern with the government’s decision to imprison Haitians for petty offenses.
He said he expressed this concern to Attorney General Carl Bethel during a recent meeting.
“I know that The Bahamas is a country of law, but sometimes you have to see it like the humanitarian way because [t]here isn’t a major crime,” Darlier said.
When asked what would be a more appropriate penalty for the migrants, Darlier said, “They should go to the detention center and be repatriated to Haiti. In fact, they don’t have to spend time in Fox Hill.”
Former Court of Appeal President Dame Joan Sawyer has said that Darlier’s comments were “completely out of line”.
The issue of immigration has resurfaced following Hurricane Dorian – the strongest storm on record to hit The Bahamas.
Dorian ravaged parts of Abaco and Grand Bahama in early September.
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, the government announced that the repatriation of storm victims, who are undocumented migrants, was on hold. Not long after, it said repatriation of all undocumented migrants had resumed.
In September, Minister of Immigration Elsworth Johnson said undocumented migrants would not be allowed to stay in hurricane shelters.
“Most certainly, those shelters will not be used as a mechanism to circumvent the law,” he said. “The government of The Bahamas fully appreciates that we are a country of laws. We’re governed by the rule of law.”
The government has faced backlash locally and internationally as a result of its strong stance on immigration following the storm.
Several human rights groups have accused the government of targeting Haitians with its policies and sending them to a country with civil unrest.
According to Giuseppe Loprete, the chief of the International Organization for Migration’s mission in Haiti, more than 200 Haitians – most of whom are from Dorian-affected areas – have been deported since mid-October.
Last week, Loprete expressed concern with the deportations in the wake of the storm.
“They will experience the same difficulties everyone is having in Haiti,” Loprete said on Wednesday.
“In addition, they are certainly traumatized, they had a job and they had their living in The Bahamas but they lost everything suddenly. There is a risk of stigma for those who failed; starting over will not be easy.”
Dr. Jeff Crisp, a former official for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), has said that The Bahamas should find a way to “regularize” the status of Haitian migrants and “allow them to benefit from decent living and working conditions” following Hurricane Dorian.
“Rather than setting a dangerous precedent by summarily deporting the Haitians, The Bahamas should find a way to regularize their status and allow them to benefit from decent living and working conditions,” he said.