Russell warns NP shelterees: We know who is here
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Director of Immigration Clarence Russell said the department has credible intelligence that churches and other dwellings are being used as safe havens for undocumented migrants.
In an interview with Eyewitness News Online, Russell warned those churches that authorities will soon move in to detain those who do not have a right to be in the country and anyone found harboring such individuals will also face the consequences of the law.
“The shelters — that is the authorized, registered shelters have not been touched, but there are some churches and some other places that are undocumented shelters where we understand that persons are being accommodated,” Russell said.
“We want to send a stern warning to those persons who are harboring those persons — deliberately I say harboring because harboring of illegals is a criminal offense, punishable by law. If we find, irrespective of where you are harboring them, that you are in fact involved in such a criminal act, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
He did not name the churches or undesignated shelters he was referring to.
Dorian, which decimated portions of Abaco and Grand Bahama, displaced thousands and killed at least 70 people.
Scores of displaced residents who have chosen to remain in Abaco, have sought refuge in churches.
For example, over 60 people at last report were residing in New Haitian Mission Baptist Church in Treasure Cay.
Displaced residents in AB Apostolic (AB) and New International Gospel Mission in Marsh Harbour were reportedly told by authorities to leave as the churches are not designated post-storm shelters.
Last month, Bahamas Christian Council President Bishop Delton Fernander called on the government to implement a liaison between the immigration department and churches in the affected islands.
He condemned reports of immigration operations at churches as a “desecration of the sanctity” of those dwellings.
At the time, Minister of Immigration Elsworth Johnson said churches in affected islands cannot be used as means to circumvent the law under the guise of shelters.
Status of shelterees
Russell also advised that as the government seeks to close designated shelters in New Providence, the public should have no misconception that the Department of Immigration is unaware of the status of individuals in those facilities.
As of today, 497 shelterees still reside on two designated sites in New Providence: 380 at the Kendal GL Isaacs Gymnasium and three tents, and 117 at the Bahamas Academy Gymnasium.
The government has said it plans to have those shelters closed before the end of the year, though details remain unclear on how the government will deal with those people.
Asked whether the department will soon inspect these shelters to identify those who do not have a right to be in the country, Russell said “I think you know that my history has been one in law enforcement, police force.
“I daresay that we are no longer just patrolling the streets and doing the ordinary. In other words, we too are intelligence-led,” Russell said.
“And so, while I won’t elaborate any further on that, it stands to reason that we know who is in our country; whether you have entered legally and/or illegally, we’ve have some idea — hence the success rates that we’ve had of recent in taking undocumented persons into custody.
“So, we want the public to know that don’t think for a minute that the immigration department is unaware of who is here. At the appropriate time, the appropriate action will be taken.”
Us against them
While noting Haitian migrants are the predominant group which seeks to illegally enter the country, Russell said the department does not see ethnicity in carrying out the law and there is a “myth that it’s an us and against them”.
“There is this misconception that the legal persons in our country who have been granted citizenship, permanent residency, who are in fact here and documented are encouraging others who are undocumented into their community,” he said.
“I think that stands perhaps; it’s a myth. There are decent honorable persons who are among those citizens because once you have been granted citizenship and/or permanent residency, you are now in fact a citizen of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, so this myth that it’s an us and against them is a non-existent issue.”
He continued: “While most of the emphasis in our country is on one group of persons, the immigration department doesn’t have the privilege of just looking at one group of persons. Yes, predominantly there are one particular group of persons who come to our shores illegally.”
The government has deported hundreds of undocumented Haitian migrants since Dorian barreled its way across the northwest islands.
Over 113 Haitian migrants were repatriated to Haiti last week, Russell confirmed.
The repatriation exercises have garnered criticisms from various United Nations agencies as tensions continue over the matter.