Three inhabitants of a school bus that had been converted into living accommodations in Dundas Town, Abaco, were arrested and discovered to be undocumented migrants, the Department of Immigration said yesterday.
Further investigation revealed that the men entered The Bahamas by boat only four months earlier.
“On April 19, a joint operation consisting of officers from the department’s Abaco District, the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF), and officials from the departments of housing and environmental health, led to the arrest and subsequent conviction of three Haitian adult male migrants,” the Department of Immigration said in a statement.
“An official complaint was lodged with the department after a video made the rounds on social media of a school bus that had been converted into a dwelling home for suspected illegal migrants in the Dundas Town, Abaco, area.
“The team investigated the complaint and found three males, later discovered to be Haitian migrants, on board the bus. The trio attempted to evade custody, however, did not make good their escape.
“The men were cautioned and transported to the Immigration Marsh Harbour Office where further investigations revealed that they possessed no legal status in the country.
“All migrants stated that they entered the country via boat in December 2020.”
The statement noted that the trio [was] arraigned in the Magistrate’s Court, where they pled guilty to the charge of illegal landing and were ordered to remain in immigration custody. The men were fined $300, or, in default of payment, ordered to serve one month at The Bahamas Department of Correctional Services.
On Monday, a video depicting the bus, which had been turned into a makeshift triplex, sparked public outrage over Abaco’s longstanding struggle with unregulated housing.
In the video, recorded by Dundas Town resident Cay Mills, a man was seen trying to push a mattress through the back door of the bus, which was parked in a clearing on the side of the road, with most of its windows boarded up.
A look through some of the still-open windows revealed the vehicle had been divided by plywood partitions into three separate rooms. Two of the rooms were furnished with a mattress and nightstand, while suitcases and other personal belongings could be seen resting on the floor.
Mills claimed that a pit, dug on the side of the bus, was being used as a toilet for those living in the vehicle.
In the ongoing rebuilding of Abaco in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, the issue has been particularly contentious, with many residents having raised concern over the swiftness with which new illegal structures are being erected.
Leading up to the hurricane, two of the largest known shantytowns in The Bahamas occupied prime property in Marsh Harbour.
In 2018, the Minnis administration announced plans to demolish shantytowns throughout the country, giving residents of most shantytowns on New Providence until August 10, 2018, to leave before demolition.
Residents in Abaco shantytowns were given until the end of July 2019 to leave.
However, in August 2018, Supreme Court Justice Cheryl Grant-Thompson granted an injunction preventing the demolition of shantytowns.
But when Dorian made landfall in the Abacos in September 2019, the shantytowns were some of the worst-hit communities – many of them virtually wiped out by the strong winds and storm surge.
Much of what remained of the communities was bulldozed by the government in the post-hurricane cleanup process.
Of the major shantytowns on Abaco, only The Farm survived; because some buildings were still standing and people were still living in the community in the aftermath of Dorian, it was protected by the injunction.
The government is seeking to have that injunction lifted in an ongoing Supreme Court hearing.