The provisions for asylum seekers in the draft Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill, 2018 would be “impossible” for a small country like The Bahamas to implement, Attorney General Ryan Pinder said yesterday.
Pinder said this was why he recommended, over the objection of some in the Office of the Attorney General, to separate the bill and deal with the issue of citizenship and equal rights.
Pinder, who was asked about the issue of illegal migration in the Senate, said the government does not want to mix its political mandate to move forward with matters relating to equality and the complex issue of asylum.
The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill, 2018, was drafted under the Minnis administration. Several drafts of the bill were made. It was never tabled in Parliament.
Pinder referred to the bill as the “111 page document that you would never get through” because “it was enormous”.
“The problem that we have, and if you would have read that draft and looked at some of the asylum provisions in there, I think although they are imposed based upon commitments we’ve made to the United Nations and human rights commitments that deal with asylum, for a small country like The Bahamas it would be impossible for us to implement those asylum provisions,” Pinder said.
“For example, the United Nations Human Rights Council would tell us that if somebody is legitimately claiming asylum in your country you have to house them, you have to feed them, you have to put them to work in your country while their asylum application is being considered.
“So those are some of the difficulties when you talk about illegal migrants. Then you couple that with circumstances from their home country that they may be claiming asylum …
“Even the United States and other countries who can afford to do this struggle mightily with this. A country like The Bahamas with 400,000 people, 700 plus islands, with territories around us that have political issues that can justify people claiming asylum for your country, it is a very difficult and complex issue.
“That is one of the reasons I recommended, frankly, over the objection of some in the Office of the Attorney General, to decouple that legislation.
“When you look at issues of asylum and you then start convoluting that with things, you have a political mandate to fulfill, such as equality and citizenship rights, you never get it done because of the complex nature of other things that we have committed to and we struggle with how do we implement it with legislation, policy and then on the ground.”
The draft that The Nassau Guardian reviewed said an asylum seeker, whose application is pending, has the right to remain in The Bahamas; be granted assistance for his physical and material well-being; and, with the permission of the director of immigration, work for himself or any employer in any occupation and be exempt from paying work visa fees.
Upon approval, a person would have the right to remain in The Bahamas indefinitely.
On the issue of citizenship, the bill proposed the establishment of a “right of abode”, or a right to live, in The Bahamas for anyone born in The Bahamas to foreign parents while they are a minor – before they reach age 18.
It also proposed a right to live in The Bahamas for anyone born legitimately outside The Bahamas to a Bahamian mother, while that person is still a minor.
Pinder said this week that the government intends to advance legislation to allow Bahamian men and women to pass on citizenship in all circumstances by the end of the summer.
The current law states that a Bahamian woman married to a foreign spouse cannot automatically pass on citizenship to children born abroad.
Bahamian men who have children with foreign women out of wedlock cannot automatically pass on citizenship to their children, even if they are born in The Bahamas.
Referenda proposed to address the issue failed.
The government intends to deal with the issue via ordinary legislation.