Despite intense protests from Ragged Islanders, a defense force vessel carrying 29 Haitian migrants yesterday docked at Gun Point, Ragged Island.
Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) Commodore Dr. Raymond King said the migrants will be handed over to the Department of Immigration for repatriation.
He said the location was chosen because of its isolation.
“Our emphasis is strictly on safe transport of those persons to that location, where they will be handed over to immigration officials for repatriation,” he said.
“The reality of it is that migrants, it is the responsibility of the Bahamas government.
“They have to be processed before they are repatriated. And Ragged Island, specifically Gun Point, afforded us several benefits. One, where we stay is isolated from the community.
“Our operation is about two miles away from the community and it’s basically enclosed. And there is an airstrip where those persons, once they would have been tried at our facility, they can be quickly placed on an aircraft and repatriated.”
However, Ragged Island resident Melanie Lockhart-Cartwright, 61, said the move is a dangerous one as some of the migrants could have COVID-19.
“Ragged Island is COVID-free at this particular time – no coronavirus,” she said.
“The prime minister cannot say that he does not know that the Ragged Islanders protested against him allowing the defense force to take those migrants into Ragged Island. He can’t say that. He has been saying he is out to preserve lives and keep people safe. You are going to jeopardize bona fide Bahamian lives, the few residents of Ragged Island, and the workers who are there working to rebuild the school.”
Lockhart-Cartwright added, “We have no nurse, no doctor, no fuel station, inadequate water supply and only a grocery store, which belongs to a cancer survivor who shouldn’t be serving anybody to contaminate her.”
In a statement issued last week, the defense force said the migrants were picked up in the area near Great Isaacs Cay on Wednesday in what is believed to be a migrant smuggling operation.
Exumas and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper also condemned the move yesterday.
“Despite the strong objection of MP Cooper, we are advised that RBDF’s Lawrence Major has docked at Gun Point, Ragged Island, with dozens of undocumented, untested immigrants on board,” he said in a statement on Facebook.
“There is no nurse, doctor or medical facility or police, no proper facilities, electricity or running water at this base. This administration must explain the blatant disrespect and disregard for the health and well-being of Ragged Islanders.”
Amanda Curling, 49, who led a protest outside the Office of the Prime Minister on Friday, said the move is nonsensical and inconsiderate.
“The government have to be sick in their brains,” she said.
“[They] are not thinking of the few people who are there. There is no nurse, no doctor, no government facilities in Ragged Island. Ragged Island barely has water for the few people who are there. So, how could they send those people there? You don’t know if they have COVID-19.
“…And the mailboat has to go to that dock every week. What are they thinking? They’ve got to be out of their minds.”
There have been 342 cases of COVID-19 confirmed in The Bahamas, with the majority on Grand Bahama and New Providence. Ragged Island is among several Family Islands with no confirmed cases. With limited access to healthcare, many in the Family Islands have raised concern over their vulnerability in the event of an outbreak.
However, Ragged Islanders find themselves particularly disadvantaged, with many basic facilities still in a state of disrepair since Hurricane Irma devastated the island in 2017.