NASSAU, BAHAMAS – An estimated 80 per cent of the more than 3,500 shantytown residents spread across Abaco have legal status to be in The Bahamas, while 20 per cent or 707 people are undocumented, according to preliminary data provided by the Shantytown Action Task Force (SATF).
Three-thousand, five hundred and thirty-nine people reside in shantytown communities in Abaco, more than two-and-a-half times the 1,410 shantytown residents in New Providence.
Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes, who chairs the SATF, revealed portions of the report to the media outside of Cabinet yesterday morning.
He said he could only reveal preliminary figures as Cabinet was still reviewing the document.
The report was produced following a survey of nearly 800 households in six shantytown communities on Abaco.
There are a combined 915 structures on the island, according to the survey.
According to Foulkes, surveyors interviewed residents from 777 structures.
The remaining residents were either not home or declined to be interviewed by surveyors.
A total of 3,039 people reside in the 777 structures surveyed while and estimated 500 people reside in remaining 138 structures.
Of those residents, 332 were minors, according to the report.
Foulkes also broke down the data by community.
He said 70 per cent of shantytowns structures in Abaco are located in The Mudd and Pigeon Peas, where a combined 2,600 people live.
The report also breaks down residents’ status, including permanent residents, citizens, those on spousal permits, and those on work permits.
However, Foulkes did not reveal those specific categories.
He said those details will come when the report is released in its entirety.
Asked for a timeline on the report’s release, Foulkes said, “I don’t know. It is before my colleagues now. It is in Cabinet’s hands. One of the figures that I can release this morning is out of all the residents, 80 per cent of them have some sort of legal status to be in The Bahamas. Twenty per cent of them are undocumented.”
Following a tour of The Mudd and Pigeon Peas in March, Foulkes estimated there were well over 5,000 people residing in these communities.
According to a 2013 report compiled by the Department of Environmental Health Services, there were approximately 1,000 structures in those communities.
It was pointed out to the minister that the figures in the SATF’s report were well under the estimates the task force provided earlier this year.
“This is the first time that we have actually done a report since the fires,” he responded.
“The Ministry of Health did a report in 2013 and at that time there were 1,024 households. So, as you can see there is a decrease of about 100 structures.
“We think that is due to the two fires that occurred since 2013.
“We think that this survey is accurate. We have heard many reports from persons who live in Abaco and who have visited that the figures could be anywhere from 2,000 to 7,000, but what I have given to you are the facts; we believe that they are the facts.”
In late January, an estimated 60 structures were destroyed by fire, which was an act of arson, according to authorities.
Another fire in March destroyed 32 structures and displaced a reported 95 people.
The government gave shantytown residents in New Providence until August 10 to evacuate. It gave shantytown residents in Abaco until July 31, 2019, to do the same.
Days before the August deadline, the Supreme Court issued an injunction that prevented the demolition of shantytowns in New Providence. The injunction was granted following an application for judicial review of the government’s actions.
Foulkes said while the injunction prohibits the government from following through on its plan of action, efforts continue on the issue, including exploring alternative housing solutions for displaced residents.