AG: Govt. challenged to accurately report missing people

AG: Govt. challenged to accurately report missing people
Attorney General Carl Bethel

Bethel believes some have failed to report because of fears surrounding their immigration status

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Attorney General Carl Bethel yesterday urged storm victims, regardless of their status, to come forward and report any information they might have on missing people as a result of Hurricane Dorian.

Bethel suggested some have not come forward due to concerns about their immigration status.

He was asked about the process of accounting for missing people since the deadly storm in early September, on the sidelines of a swearing-in ceremony at government house.

Bethel said: “Half of the difficulty is for persons to come forward with evidence about who they know to be missing and so, we are not sure we are getting a fully accurate picture and we would encourage all persons.

“Nobody is going to be asked any question about their status if they are performing a lawful function such as reporting missing persons etc.”

Bethel was asked whether authorities were challenged to fully account for missing people because undocumented migrants were not reporting missing loved one out of fear of being detained.

The attorney general said: “It is nothing that I have heard officially, but it is something that I have heard out there, suggested certainly by some international organizations. I want to encourage every single person who has any evidence or any information about any person who is missing — whatever their status — to come forward.”

Bethel said in cases where people are uncomfortable reporting to the police, they may contact the Office of the Attorney General.

He said: “We will have somebody assist you by providing someone at our offices perhaps to take a statement, a sworn statement, so we can get people to bring forward such information as they have.”

The Bahamas government has deported more than 300 people to Haiti in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian amid international concerns over the removal of storm victims.

The government has committed to gazette the names of missing people from the storm; however, officials have not confirmed the exact number of missing people since early October.

In late October, Minister of Social Services Frankie Campbell said reports were being made to a number of separate agencies and the government thought it prudent to cross reference before publishing that names of missing people.

At the time, he acknowledged the matter was one of urgency.

The cross-referencing was undertaken by the Ministry of National Security, the Minister of Social Services and the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).

An internal NEMA situation report, obtained by Eyewitness News Online, stated 346 people were missing two months after the storm.

Last month, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said the government was doing its best to keep track of the number of dead and missing people.

As he closed debate in the House of Assembly on the Disaster Reconstruction Authority Bill, 2019, the prime minister said: “It’s very difficult for us to have an exact count on the numbers of missing individuals, because you would recall that there are a lot of undocumented individuals.”

Minnis continued: “If they are undocumented, we won’t have records of them and therefore you may find that that number may fluctuate. But we are doing our best to keep count of and reporting to the nation at large as to the count, number of dead as well as number of missing.”

Officials have also not released the identities of confirmed storm deaths.

Minister of National Security Marvin Dames has said an official report must come from police in order for the Coroner’s Court to issue a death certificate.

The death toll as a result of the storm stands at 70.