The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is urging The Bahamas to end deportations to Haiti for now, amid concerns over the government’s immigration policy and the treatment of undocumented Haitian migrants after Hurricane Dorian.
“We call on the authorities to halt any further deportations to Haiti at the moment,” said the spokesperson for the OHCHR in a statement.
It said, “We are concerned about the deportation of 112 Haitian migrants from The Bahamas to Haiti last Thursday, including people from the Abaco islands, which were badly hit by the destruction caused by Hurricane Dorian in September this year.
“We call on the government to refrain from deporting individuals who lack documentation without the individual assessments and due process guarantees to which they are entitled under international law.”
In recent weeks, the government has faced backlash after announcing its intention to enforce immigration laws and deport undocumented migrants, even those impacted by the hurricane.
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, the government announced that the repatriation of storm victims, who are undocumented migrants, was on hold.
The UN body expressed concern with the impact of the government’s public reversal of its “immigration enforcement activities”.
“Haitian migrants have often found themselves in positions of vulnerability in The Bahamas, as documented by UN human rights mechanisms,” the statement read.
“Many of them lived in informal settlements that were destroyed by the hurricane, losing their documents, jobs and belongings.”
The OHCHR added, “This has led to panic among Haitians affected by Hurricane Dorian, and reports are emerging of people leaving temporary shelters for fear of arrest, and of people failing to avail themselves of necessary humanitarian services or going into hiding.
“There have also been deeply worrying discriminatory public declarations against Haitians, as well as messages of xenophobia and intolerance in the media.
“We are concerned that such narratives may lead to further stigmatization of or violence against migrants and minorities.”
The agency urged the government to ensure that “no one is left behind” in its recovery efforts.
The UN also called on the government to put in place procedures to facilitate access to documents “for all those who had legal documents prior to Dorian – particularly those who may be either stateless or at risk of statelessness – and to ensure they have access to independent legal counsel”.
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis has maintained an unwavering stance on immigration in the weeks following Dorian – the worst storm in Bahamian history.
Speaking in Parliament, Minnis sent a notice to “all those who are illegal that they can leave voluntarily or they will be forced to leave”.
The prime minister also warned companies that hire undocumented workers that they will be “disciplined severely”.
But he said the government’s immigration policy will be carried out humanely.