“DISASTER WAITING TO HAPPEN”: Foreign affairs minister underscores danger of shantytowns in defense of govt’s position

“DISASTER WAITING TO HAPPEN”: Foreign affairs minister underscores danger of shantytowns in defense of govt’s position
Rihanna Nervillien's five-year-old sister Diamond Delhomme stands amidst rubble in The Farm shantytown in this November 11, 2019 photo. Her family lives in Farm Road. (FILE PHOTO)

Henfield: This is not about migration or illegality; this is about saving lives

“We still don’t know how many lives were lost in The Mudd”

ABACO, THE BAHAMAS — As he toured the storm-ravaged areas of Hurricane Dorian with a United Nations (UN) delegation over the weekend, Foreign Affairs Minister Darren Henfield defended the government’s position against shantytowns as a matter of public safety.

The UN delegation visited the Carmichael Road Detention Center on Friday and traveled to Abaco on Saturday to tour different areas impacted by Dorian.  

Minister of Foreign Affairs Darren Henfield (left) meets with UN Resident Coordinator Garry Conille on Saturday. (BIS PHOTO)

Its mission came amidst ongoing concerns at the New Providence facility and recent reports of mistreatment of detainees, along with the ongoing demolition of unregulated buildings in The Farm shantytown.

UN Resident Coordinator Garry Conille visited the site of The Mudd — which was destroyed by Dorian — and The Farm to discuss government policy prior to and following Hurricane Dorian.

Henfield, who accompanied Conille, explained to the UN representative that the fenced off area where the shantytown once stood was a “disaster waiting to happen”.

He described how multiple unregulated structures were constructed in the community, but when Dorian hit, the nearly 19 to 24 foot surge swept in containers, boats and other debris from the waterside.

Henfield also said he personally visited the area before the storm, asking residents to seek shelter elsewhere — either in schools, churches or government buildings.

“We emphasize that this is not about migration; this is not about illegality; this is about saving lives and we didn’t have the kind of cooperation that we thought,” he added.

“The entire area was destroyed and we don’t know how many lives were lost in here. With an illegal migration population, they’re not going to report to any authority… So, we don’t know how many lives we lost in here. We find it cordoned off to prevent rebuilding in irregular fashion.”

A preliminary Abaco Shantytown Assessment Report, 2018, estimated the total population for the six communities was 3,581 — of which more than 1,500 resided in The Mudd and more than 500 in an area known as Pigeon Peas.

Of those residents, the report noted that 20 percent were undocumented at the time.

The government has demolished at least 10 illegal housing structures in The Farm shantytown as it continues its third phase of eradicating such dwellings throughout the country.

Human rights groups, including United Nations human rights experts, have repeatedly appealed to the government not to proceed with the demolitions, with the UN citing health and humanitarian concerns that “the community of largely Haitian descendants and migrants numbering up to 2,000 people, including many women and children, are at serious risk of becoming homeless”.

A tractor tears into a structure in a shantytown on Abaco in May 2021. (PHOTO: THE MINISTRY OF PUBLIC WORKS)

Officials, however, have maintained they will move forward with the process despite disapproval and criticism from advocacy groups.

The monstrous Category 5 storm destroyed the two largest of the six shantytowns on Abaco — The Mudd and Pigeon Peas — in September 2019.

Following the storm, the government issued an order with immediate effect preventing anyone from building or developing in The Mudd, Pigeon Peas, Sandbanks and The Farm and cleared down the debris from those storm-ridden areas.

Many of those residents, some of whom are believed to be undocumented migrants, are still attempting to recover nearly two years later.

The UN, in a statement issued at the conclusion of its mission, noted it had positive talks with the government on a number of “sensitive issues”.

About Sloan Smith

Sloan Smith is a senior digital reporter at Eyewitness News, covering a diverse range of beats, from politics and crime to environment and human interest. In 2018, Sloan received a nomination for the “Leslie Higgs Feature Writer of The Year Award” from The Bahamas Press Club for her work with Eyewitness News.