Activist files police complaint over viral death threat
NASSAU, BAHAMAS —Anti-Haitian sentiments in the country have soared in the aftermath of deadly Hurricane Dorian as widespread devastation and financial loss expose historic prejudices.
Activists, government officials, and hurricane victims have reported worsening ethnic tensions and fears that hate speech on social media could reach a tipping point.
On Monday, outspoken human rights activist Louby Georges filed a complaint with police after he received an expletive-filled voice note detailing an attempt on his life. He told Eyewitness News Online he normally ignores detractors, but immediately reported the voice note due to the emotions amplified by the catastrophic category 5 storm.
Georges, a spokesperson for the newly-formed United Haitian Community, urged the government against pandering to calls for an immigration crackdown against Haitian storm victims as it begged for humanitarian aid on the world stage.
Georges said: “We have a volcano on the ground right now; tar so hot that you ride with the car on it [and] your tires will melt. That’s how hot the tension is.
“We have to set some kind of precedence where voice notes like this, threats of death are taken seriously. [Haitians] facing a lot of [hateful comments], they are scared at the moment.”
Dorian leveled portions of Abaco and Grand Bahama, leaving thousands displaced and at least 60 people dead. Just under 1,600 storm evacuees are being housed in shelters across New Providence, with a significant portion of them evacuated from decimated shantytowns in Abaco.
At the Kendal G L Isaacs Gymnasium on Monday, a displaced and undocumented mother of three told Eyewitness News Online while she understands the government position, Dorian survivors are still deeply traumatized and unable to sleep. She said documented migrants and those with irregular status were equally afraid and unsure of their future, especially those with children born in the country with a claim to citizenship.
A chief concern has been the lack of clarity over how the government will identify those with legal right to remain in the country given the widespread loss of documentation; and when immigration officers will begin to comb through shelters.
Haiti’s Foreign Minister Bocchit Edmond has asked the government for a moratorium on repatriations as the country works to fast-track the replacement of documents for its citizens.
His comments came as Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson repeatedly warned undocumented storm victims that they were not safe from enforcement efforts. Johnson suggested the tone struck in the immediate aftermath of the storm – when migrants were assured they would not be targeted – was instrumental in building trust with traumatized storm victims who may not have accepted aid due to their status.
Following an Immigration statement reiterating work permits for migrants are non-transferable and non-nationals seeking employment in The Bahamas must make new applications from their home country; Attorney General Carl Bethel told The Tribune jobless migrants must “go home”.
Georges opined the government’s shift in tone towards migrant storm victims further evidenced the deep divisions that – in part – kept hundreds of migrants in shantytowns on Abaco, instead of heeding warnings to evacuate.
“It’s because of the timing,” Georges said.
“Normally, no one can castigate or go after the minister for what he said. He said the right things, but it’s timing of it.
He continued: “Who are you really speaking to? The evacuees are not receiving newspapers. Obviously, you are speaking to the Bahamian populace…”
“…Any social group right now and Facebook group this is the topic.”
Less than a week after the storm, a group of 13 young men blocked the entrance to Staniard Creek in North Andros to prevent Haitian workers believed to be undocumented from accessing Kamalame Cay.
Central Andros Administrator G
Lightbourne said: “Earlier that morning, they had blocked the road and we got information that they were stopping persons and asking for identification but the police dealt with that very quickly.
“I went into a meeting with police and immigration officers who are responsible for the area and we told (group) it’s not their position to do that, if they have any information to pass it on to police or immigration. It didn’t develop into anything major, there were about 12 to 13 young men.
Lightbourne continued: “At Kamalame Cay, we know they have residences that are being built constantly so contractors bring their workers there to construct that.”
Lightbourne insisted the matter was an isolated incident; however, in the following days a group called Descendants of North Andros raised concerns about the alleged relocation of Haitians from Abaco to Andros.
The group’s letter, and its claim that a San Andros shantytown had swelled to some 700 residents, was met with furor as it spread widely on social media.
Yesterday, Bahamas Christian Council President (BCC) President Bishop Delton Fernander told Eyewitness News Online the proliferation of hateful public discourse is a growing concern for the church.
“We are concerned but we are careful to not draw a generalization that it is all Bahamians making those speech,” said Fernander, who underscored his comments reflected his personal opinion.
“I think it is the few personalities that have been known to be on social media and talk shows who are voicing their personal opinions but we are human beings who are part of the human race and we must really understand that everybody is a child of God and everybody is designed by God and so we must be careful when we think we’re better than anybody because we have all been given this breath by God.”
A government official sent to Abaco last Wednesday, spoke to Eyewitness News Online on the condition of anonymity after spending nearly a week on the island.
The official noted while some of the anger directed at Haitians were in response to attempts to rebuild in shantytown areas, there was a noticeable xenophobic undercurrent.
“Now that I’m in Abaco I can feel the tension people have been describing,” the official said.
“There’s a lot of talk on the town, persons expressing their feelings about the Haitian population. Unfortunately they are speaking negatively, it is noticeable. They were attempting to rebuild in Sandy Banks, I went with the police officers and they took us on a tour and showed us frames for buildings they had to knock down the night before.
The official continued: “Bahamians are angry, (Haitians) are back rebuilding and trying to reestablish themselves in these shanty town communities. That’s one of the things, but to be honest I think people are just against them because they are Haitian. That’s what it comes down to, because these people were always in the community.
“These are the persons who have done the jobs in the communities that you would describe as menial, and even now these persons are the ones doing some of the cleanup.”
Eyewitness News Online reporters Royston Jones, Sloan Smith and Ava Turnquest contributed to this report.