Minister of Immigration Elsworth Johnson said yesterday that undocumented migrants have no reason to be fearful of being detained should they come forward to provide DNA samples for the identification of Hurricane Dorian victims.
“So, I want to say to persons that they need not fear that,” Johnson said outside Cabinet.
“We are a civilized country. We want to identify persons. All life in The Bahamas is precious.
“…I want to reassure anybody in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas that if they think that there is a relative who is here…come forward.”
A United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report, which was released in January, estimated that up to 7,000 Haitians were impacted by Hurricane Dorian. The hurricane leveled parts of Grand Bahama and Abaco in early September last year. Haitian shantytowns on Abaco were especially hard hit with flooding and wind damage.
Seventy-six people have been confirmed dead since the storm. Many of the recovered bodies were found in Abaco shantytowns.
During a press conference on Sunday, officials said DNA analysis profiling is still ongoing in an attempt to identify recovered remains, but COVID-19 has resulted in a delay at the U.S. laboratory that is analyzing the samples.
Superintendent Rochelle Deleveaux, director of the Royal Bahamas Police Force’s forensic laboratory, said that while they are confident they will get full DNA profiles of the victims who remain unidentified, they have not received sufficient DNA samples from relatives of the missing to be able to match them. Forensic officials said they have only collected 21 samples so far.
Deleveaux acknowledged that some people may be illegal migrants who are afraid to come forward with their DNA.
Johnson said yesterday that the handling of immigrants following the hurricane is proof that they don’t need to fear being apprehended in the process of reporting loved ones as missing or providing DNA samples.
“I want to alert persons who are here in The Bahamas who may not be naturalized, just after Hurricane Dorian, the government put out a statement saying we would be guided by the constitution, international best practices, foremost among them the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” he said.
“And so you can see how we conducted ourselves just after the hurricane. Despite legal status, everybody was provided with assistance. Persons were put into shelters and we didn’t take cognizance of citizenship or nationality. Healthcare, food, social services were provided. And so we went through the process even in these shelters to gather the names. Social services did a phenomenal job. And so it’s somewhat concerning that person are saying they are concerned now to come ahead and to identify their relatives when some of the same persons are coming ahead and utilizing the social services structure.”
Six weeks after Dorian hit, the Bahamian government began deporting undocumented storm survivors.
While it is unclear exactly how many people have been deported, the United Nations report noted that an International Organization for Migration (IOM) report dated December 5, said 579 Haitians had already been deported.