Inagua residents’ COVID-19 fears were heightened yesterday after HMBS Bahamas docked in Matthew Town, Inagua, bringing 21 undocumented Haitian migrants to be housed at the island’s police station until repatriation to Haiti.
According to Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) Commodore Raymond King, the migrants were initially scheduled to be housed at the maritime facility on the island, but plans changed.
However, residents, who have been protesting the decision since Friday, were not comfortable with the decision, saying the island does not have the capacity to handle any potential cases.
“The RBDF officers mingle with the people of Inagua; they’re going to be dealing with these migrants,” Giselle Fielder, a resident of Inagua, said yesterday.
“We have one doctor, who is out on vacation, and one nurse. We cannot accommodate any external individuals. We can barely accommodate the people who live on Inagua. My concern is getting individuals who are sick to Nassau.”
On Friday, a 64-year-old father and his 37-year-old son, both of Inagua, who recently traveled to the United States, tested positive for COVID-19 and were placed in home isolation on New Providence.
Inagua Chief Councillor Amapola Lindo said they were informed that they tested positive just as they prepared to return to Inagua.
However, she said the big concern for residents is the housing of the migrants within the tiny community.
“Why did officials not take them right to Nassau and just fly them to Haiti?” Lindo asked.
“Why are they bringing them here where we don’t have a detention center and you’re housing them in the police station? We have one doctor, who is on vacation, and one nurse. We have no test kits. We don’t even have a lab here.”
According to Lindo, just over 900 people live on the island, which has only one settlement.
The U.S. Coast Guard captured 23 migrants near Florida just after midnight on July 16. They were screened for COVID-19 symptoms but none displayed any signs, according to King.
Two of the migrants were retained in U.S. care while the remaining 21 were transferred from the U.S. Coast Guard vessel to HMBS Bahamas on Saturday morning.
On Friday, dozens of Inagua residents protested via motorcade against the arrival of the migrants.
Flavioa Cox, who was a part of the protest, said he’s mostly concerned for his mother and his mother-in-law who are “up there in age”. He said, “If one person on this island gets it, then we all get it. We’re closely knit.
“We’re not interested in nothing about COVID-19 down here. The residents of Inagua, we had a town meeting, where social distancing was practiced, so people could voice their opinion. Then, we got into our cars and we drove around the island letting others know what was happening and we assembled at the maritime base where we assembled with our picket signs.”
Randolph “Casper” Burrows, 44, called the entire ordeal a “scary situation”.
“With borders open and even with locals coming back home, it’s scary,” he said.
“People should most definitely be tested going from island to island. The situation with the two gentlemen [is that they] went for a quick trip and coming back, it happens so fast. Something needs to be done.”
Prior to the novel coronavirus pandemic, there were three flights into Inagua weekly. That number has since been reduced to two flights per week.
As for plans for repatriation, King said that is in the hands of the Department of Immigration.
Director of Immigration Clarence Russell indicated yesterday that a lawful decision was made to permit due process to take its course in the case of the 21 “suspected illegal migrants” matter on Inagua, after which, based on the magisterial order, a determination shall be made with respect to swift repatriations — if so ordered by the courts.
An undocumented migrant tested positive for COVID-19 on Grand Bahama earlier this month, authorities said.