The right of return and COVID-19

On March 24, by COVID-19 Emergency Order (No. 2), the government prohibited all foreign persons from entering The Bahamas through any public or privately owned air or sea port.

Three days later, Nassau Airport Development Company (NAD) advised that Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) was closed to all incoming commercial passengers.

On the same day, Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar confirmed to the media that all borders of The Bahamas were closed to incoming passengers including Bahamians.

Then the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a press release advising that Bahamian nationals and residents abroad were likely to be dislocated.

They advised such persons to contact the nearest Bahamas diplomatic or consular office.

Because of this action, some Bahamians have been unable to return home.

A report to this newspaper recorded the anguish of a Bahamian family desperate to arrange the return to The Bahamas of elderly 79-year-old parents and their 19-year-old grandson, stuck in Ft. Lauderdale after having heeded the advice of the Bahamas consul general in Atlanta, Georgia, to travel to Atlanta to connect with a government-approved flight to Nassau.

The flight was canceled while they were en route to Atlanta. They have since travelled to Ft. Lauderdale still hoping to reach The Bahamas via private aircraft if permitted.

Another credible story relates to another Bahamian citizen already seated on a Nassau-bound commercial flight scheduled to travel to Nassau on Friday to collect U.S. citizens from Nassau and bring them back to the United States, but who was summarily advised that she would have to disembark as LPIA had been closed to all incoming passengers, including Bahamian citizens.

The closing of our borders to Bahamian citizens contravenes the constitution.

The same constitution under which the government exercises the power to prevent entry to our citizens also guarantees all citizens the right to return to their country.

Article 25 (1) of our constitution states: “Except with his consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of movement, and for the purposes of this article the said freedom means the right to move freely throughout The Bahamas, the right to reside in any part thereof, the right to enter The Bahamas, the right to leave The Bahamas and immunity from expulsion therefrom.”

This right is subject to restriction only to the extent that any law restricting that right is reasonably required in the interests of, among other things, public health.

None of the Bahamians stranded are known to be infected. In any event, they could be made subject to mandatory testing, quarantine and self-isolation upon their return.

We are shocked, therefore, that at a time of international crisis the government of The Bahamas, whose duty and obligation it is to protect the rights of all its citizens, has abandoned its obligation to Bahamian citizens desperate to return home.

Nearly all other democracies have not only left open their borders to their returning nationals at this time of international crisis but helped citizens to return home via charter and commercial flights, even extending loans to citizens requiring financial assistance to make their return.

We do not make light of the terrible threat that the coronavirus presents to all of us. We have fully endorsed steps taken by the government to restrict and or prevent travel of international visitors to our country at this time.

But in this environment, the government should not bar its citizens nor its permanent residents from returning home.

We call on the government to revoke its most recent decision which prevents citizens and permanent residents from returning home.

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