‘Tear it down’

He kicked the back door down.

“Prime minister, be careful,” an officer said.

“Your foot, sir,” another chimed in.

But the prime minister didn’t appear to mind.

During a tour of the Sand Banks shantytown in Treasure Cay, Abaco, last Wednesday, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, accompanied by a throng of police and defense force officers, entered one of the four to five remaining buildings that still stood in the community a month after Hurricane Dorian, and kicked down the back door.

He wanted to make a point, he said.

Minnis told ASP Derick Ferguson, the top officer in North Abaco, that he wanted all the buildings ripped down.

“Why do they have blue tarp on the roofs?” Minnis asked.

The prime minister instructed Ferguson to “tear it down”, referring to the shantytown.

Sand Banks, one of several shantytowns on Abaco, was a ghost town when the prime minister entered. However, there were clear signs that people were still inhabiting the area.

The remaining homes had supplies – sugar, clothes, bread, water. The roofs had been fixed with a blue tarp that officials distribute at relief centers.

Two stray dogs followed the prime minister’s group. His tour of the area only lasted 10 minutes but his message was clear: no one was to return to Sand Banks, or any shantytown on Abaco, to live.

Many of the residents from Sand Banks had to flee the community during the storm on September 1 and 2.

Some left the island while others relocated to two nearby churches, one being the New Mission Haitian Baptist Church.

Minnis later drove past the church. Some storm victims watched him drive by, no doubt anxious about their fate in The Bahamas.

Earlier that day in Parliament, Minnis announced that the government intends to acquire shantytown property on Abaco through compulsory acquisition.

Over the weekend, the Sand Banks community, the debris and the homes that were still standing, were cleared.

Many of the former residents claimed they are work permit holders. Some claimed they have been in The Bahamas for 30 years.

Asked about their fate, Minnis said, “Well individuals have work permits but you must understand that that work permit may have been for a particular type of employment.

“That employment might no longer exist; therefore, that work permit is no longer valid and therefore one has to assess the situation.”

Attorney General Carl Bethel made similar remarks last week.

Minnis has said the government will resume deportations of those migrants who are in the country illegally.

“Individuals who are here illegally will be deported,” he said.

“I explained all of that too. I explained that I will do it in a humane manner. We will ask individuals to leave voluntarily at first. Those who don’t leave will be forced.”

But the move has been met with pushback from international bodies. A Haitian rights group in Florida called the policy “racist”.

In an editorial over the weekend, the Miami Herald called on Minnis to “show the same compassion he did immediately after the storm and not be swayed by politics”.

“The Bahamas is a sovereign nation with the right to legislate its immigration policies as it sees fit,” the Herald wrote.

“But the government’s restrictions on Haitian residents’ ability to return to communities such as The Mudd and Sand Banks by banning any rebuilding, after they’ve been sequestered in shelters, sounds like a land grab, an attempt to get rid of a population that was never welcome in the first place.”

Residents on Abaco have been worried about the return of evacuees to that island, in particular those who lived in The Mudd, Sand Banks, Pigeon Peas and other shantytowns.

Reportedly, many have come back via mailboat.

“Where are they going?” one resident asked.

Minnis said he has directed the immigration minister “that if a mailboat comes here with 300 people they are to be checked”.

“If they have no status they are to be dealt with. The same applies for Nassau,” he said.

Dorian ripped through Abaco and Grand Bahama last month, killing at least 61 people. Some 400 people are listed as missing.

The shantytown communities on Abaco, like many other areas on the island, were decimated, leaving hundreds of people homeless, without a job and with an uncertain future.

There were reports that many of the migrants who returned to Abaco in the last week have attempted to build new shantytowns.

Minnis told ASP Ferguson that he will be sending drones down and he ordered that they be used to conduct constant surveillance of the island and the ruins of the shantytowns.

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Travis Cartwright-Carroll

Travis Cartwright-Carroll is the assistant editor. He covers a wide range of national issues. He joined The Nassau Guardian in 2011 as a copy editor before shifting to reporting. He was promoted to assistant news editor in December 2018. Education: College of The Bahamas, English

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