The complex issue of shantytowns

The Davis administration has vowed to tackle the long-standing issues of shantytowns in The Bahamas.

The last administration tried and failed in 2018 after residents in some shantytowns filed a judicial review and got an injunction against the government.

The injunction was lifted in February when Supreme Court Justice Cheryl Grant-Thompson found that the Minnis administration’s shantytowns eradication policy had been lawful.

Minister of Works Alfred Sears heads an inter-ministerial committee, which also includes the attorney general, the minister of immigration, the minister of national security, the minister of social services and the minister of foreign affairs.

Sears has previously spoken to the need to deal with the legal, ethical and international considerations.

He said in November the committee was developing “a comprehensive strategy, which involves the various sectors of the government working with civil society stakeholders, that is commonage committees, church organizations and other civic groups within The Bahamas so that as we address this issue it is done in a comprehensive way”.

Sears noted, “It will have implications in terms of education. You have children who are in these communities. There is a legal obligation that children be in school.

“It will involve issues of housing. Bahamian citizens are in these communities; and the question is how do we transition these persons from these irregular communities into proper housing?

“And, of course, there presumably are persons who are undocumented and those persons will have to be deported because if you violate the immigration law then of course there are certain consequences.

“And, of course, there are also issues of health. The issues of the unauthorized accessing of utilities – electricity, water. Therefore, it’s comprehensive.”

Sears said aerial surveys were being done of shantytowns.

“Those surveys will have to be expanded because it has come to our attention in other islands, other than the ones we were focused on initially, that there are communities which are irregular, which are squatting on land, so the scope has had to be expanded,” he said.

Sears also said the government was reaching out to international organizations to explain what it intends to do.

“Clearly, there will be international implications and communication is being made with multi-lateral bodies concerned with immigration and resettlement issues,” he said.

“So we’re dealing with the national issues, but certainly the rule of law has to be maintained and the response has to be comprehensive so that regard is had to all of the relevant factors involved.”

The minster also said, “…from the intelligence we are getting, you have Bahamians who are leasing land on which some of these irregular communities are located”.

He also said Andros is one of the places which “has been brought to our attention most recently”.

“We are undertaking an aerial survey,” he said.

“And in some of the areas we have a base because at the time…when the application was made in 2019, data was collected of certain areas in New Providence as well as in Abaco and certain subsequent surveys are being compared with that base data so that we can ascertain the degree of expansion that has taken place since the base data was collected.”

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled on the matter, the Davis administration has no excuse to address this problem, which deeply concerns many Bahamians.

Shantytowns are unhealthy, unsafe and are a signal to the world that we are prepared to have people live in substandard conditions without any meaningful alternatives.

They have proliferated on numerous islands and should be eradicated.

However, the issue has long been used to denigrate Haitian migrants and as a political distraction.

The government must approach the matter in a sensitive, sensible and legally sound way if it is to have success.

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