One day after Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis declared that it is time to “take our country back”, Minister of Immigration Elsworth Johnson said he does not believe the prime minister was being xenophobic.
Johnson also insisted that government’s newly announced immigration strike force is to protect the country’s borders from potential criminals rather than to single out any particular nationality.
“…He was not being xenophobic,” Johnson told reporters on the sidelines of the swearing-in ceremony of Sir Michael Barnett as Court of Appeal president at Government House.
“That’s what you ought to do.
“You must say to persons, in a humane way, this is how we are going to conduct ourselves.
“We don’t have no more space in our schools. We don’t have monies to build any more schools. We don’t have any more beds in the hospitals.
“You have to say, ‘Listen, Bahamians pay taxes, this is what we’re going to do.’”
Johnson stressed that the strike force will not be “identifying any one group, any one sex, any one religion, any one origin”.
On Monday, as he spoke about immigration in The Bahamas, Minnis said Bahamians can no longer be second-class citizens “in our country”.
“It was not unusual, Mr. Speaker, that our wards, our beds were filled with illegals while Bahamians stood aside and sat on the benches waiting for a bed,” Minnis said.
‘Who is this country for, Mr. Speaker?”
However, he provided no official statistics to back up his claims nor did he provide any specifics, aside from the formation of a strike force, for how he intends to deal with the issue of illegal immigrants.
Critics have argued that the prime minister was merely pandering to national fears.
Illegal migration, particularly from neighboring Haiti, has been a longstanding challenge for The Bahamas.
But Johnson claimed, “When we speak to these issues, we’re being dispassionate.
“We’re speaking without fear, favor and or ill will.
“These are norms that are enforced the world around, so we’re not doing anything that is strange and we’re careful to always say that we’re going to protect the fundamental human rights of everybody.”
Johnson also said: “[A]s I said before, whatever we do in [the Ministry of] Immigration is all designed to protect the borders of The Bahamas, to protect the dignity of the human person – we believe in the human rights of the individual.
“Immigration is not just about economic migrants. When we meet an economic migrant, we go into protection mode because they’re vulnerable – vulnerable women, men and children.
“But we have a greater obligation to prevent terrorists, money launderers, human traffickers, gun traffickers—whatever have you from entering the borders. We must remember that even though we’re a small country, we punch above our weight in almost everything.”
Johnson pointed to the country recently being removed from an EU blacklist as an example, and also that illegal immigrants have access to healthcare in addition to their children being accepted into local schools.
He said that his ministry is not reviewing whether those policies will change at this time, but that they are not a sustainable option as “you can’t put 50 children in one classroom” and “there’s only so much we can do”.
“We have an obligation to protect this sovereign and democratic country. And Bahamians should not be afraid to say to anybody in this country that you have an obligation to be loyal, committed and most certainly if you want to be a Bahamian, you must be patriotic,” Johnson said.
“That is not xenophobic. I have been called xenophobic – I live on Cowpen Road – and why, because I say, ‘This is how you build?’, no.
“That doesn’t mean I hate you, it has absolutely nothing to do with hate.
“It’s about building a small developing country and we cannot allow people to twist the conversation.
“…I want every Bahamian to understand because I have about three more years – don’t know that I will run again, but for these three years I’m going to give it 110 percent service to my country.”
He added, “We want everybody to come. We cannot build this country without foreign persons. But there’s a way that you come.”