The International Organization for Migration (IOM) yesterday raised concerns about the vulnerability of migrants from Abaco and Grand Bahama following Hurricane Dorian.
The deadly Category 5 storm, which is the strongest to ever hit The Bahamas, struck the two islands early September, killing at least 61 people.
In a statement, IOM said, “Not only must migrants not be left out of the humanitarian response, but the increased vulnerability to exploitation and abuse must be recognized.
“A growing body of research…has shown that humanitarian crises may exacerbate pre-existing trafficking trends and give rise to new ones, making it an urgent priority to include counter-trafficking efforts within the response for all those affected, both migrants and nationals.”
The statement noted that Abaco is home to a large population of “irregular Haitian migrants including their Bahamian-born children who have been living in informal settlements that were completely devastated by the hurricane”.
“Their irregular status may prevent them from reporting missing persons and from seeking humanitarian assistance and which makes them particularly vulnerable in the aftermath of this disaster,” it said.
IOM notes that debris is “hindering recovery”, particularly in Central Abaco and the “inundated areas of Grand Bahama”.
“On Abaco, there has been a complete decimation of neighborhoods, including informal settlements such as The Mudd and Pigeon Peas, which are home to some of the most vulnerable individuals from the Haitian migrant community,” IOM said.
“Families are being prevented from returning home to fix their houses as well as from accessing critical infrastructure, such as medical facilities due to the significant amount of rubble and debris in and around their homes.”
The organization said it intends to assist with large-scale debris and rubble removal from public spaces, roads and drainage systems on Abaco and Grand Bahama.
IOM also raised the issue with the possibility of an increase in human trafficking in The Bahamas.
It urged the government to “monitor experiences of violence, exploitation and abuse through evaluation and monitoring and assessments”.
“While many Haitian migrants have regular status, others are undocumented and fear arrest and deportation, and have therefore avoided contact with rescuers,” IOM said in the statement.
“Fear is however widespread, even among documented migrants and Bahamian nationals of Haitian descent, some of whom have lost their documents in the hurricane.
“Given the large proportion of vulnerable communities who were affected by Hurricane Dorian, particularly Haitian irregular migrants, IOM plans to support efforts to ensure response and recovery efforts are adapted accordingly, considering cultural differences such as language and conditions of vulnerability.”
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis met with representatives from IOM on Wednesday.
Following that meeting the prime minister said he had informed the organization that The Bahamas is “a country of laws and our laws with respect to illegals, illegal immigrants, will be carried out”.
“However, they will be carried out in a humane manner,” Minnis said.
“Therefore, I send a notice to all those who are illegal that they can leave voluntarily or they will be forced to leave.”