EYES ON THE BORDER: RBDF on alert as hundreds more migrants en route to southern border

EYES ON THE BORDER: RBDF on alert as hundreds more migrants en route to southern border

Commodore assures joint efforts, resources and intelligence of multiple agencies position RBDF well

“You have to have that early detection and have the assets available and we are using all of our resources”

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Hundreds more migrants are believed to be en route to the southern Bahamas from various ports of Haiti, according to Royal Bahamas Defense Force Commodore Dr Raymond King.

However, he assured that the RBDF is well-positioned to intercept them via multiple agencies, combined resources and additional sea and aerial support at the southern border.

In a 48-hour period last week, 357 Haitian migrants were apprehended and detained on Inagua.

Another 400 suspected Haitian migrants were apprehended on Sunday night after their vessel reportedly capsized and sank off of the Exumas.

That night, an additional 144 migrants were apprehended at sea and transported to Inagua.

As the number of migrants held on the island since last week nears par with the population of Inagua, some residents have expressed concern about a potential revolt and the spread of the coronavirus.

In an interview with Eyewitness News, King said: “What we have realized is this — we now have Haitian vessels leaving from multiple ports, unusual ports.

Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) Commodore Dr Raymond King.

“They include some of the ports that were struck by the most recent earthquake and so we have departures from multiple ports, even from south Haiti, in addition to the northern sections where we have Cap Haitien and la Tortue and we have vessels now using multiple smuggling routes.

“So, once they exit the Winward passage (a strait in the Caribbean sea), they tend to split up and use different routes to make it difficult for you to arrest all.

“You have to have that early detection and have the assets available and we are using all of our resources.

“The Coast Guard has vessels poised that work along with us, and they will shadow the [migrant] vessels and keep us informed of their location until we are able to get a vessel to make the actual interception.”

When asked what intelligence has revealed about the potential numbers of migrants departing Haiti for The Bahamas and possibly the Florida Straits, King said: “The Haitian sloops that are coming now, they could average anywhere between 85 and 150 persons [each], depending on the size of the Haitian sloop. Those are the numbers we are dealing with, absent experiencing a Haitian freighter, which could probably carry about 300 or more.”

During a press conference yesterday, Minister of Immigration Keith Bell said yesterday while The Bahamas must ensure the protection of its borders and Bahamians, the government has to strike a balance.

He said the government has an obligation to treat those who seek to enter the country illegally with “basic human dignity and respect”.

He also assured residents that the government will keep the island safe.

The increase in apprehensions on the southern island comes as Haiti continues to face challenges ranging from the ongoing pandemic, consecutive natural disasters including a recent earthquake and political unrest.

According to the commodore, the RBDF has employed plans to rotate its resources and manpower to maintain its “defensive posture”.

An RBDF aircraft was expected to fly to Inagua yesterday.

Additional resources, including HMBS Lawrence Major, an auxiliary vessel, food and water were being sent to Inagua.

King said: “We have vessels dedicated to that area as well as our auxiliary vessel, along with our aircraft, [which] will join the fight later on today.

“We intend to sustain our presence, maintain those relationships, the integrity of those security cooperation relationships and all of us are poised to remain in that area.”

King said the most valuable resources continue to be The Bahamas’ regional partners with a multitude of agencies — OPBAT, the US Coast Guard, Turks and Caicos and intelligence from the Cuban Border Patrol — acting as a “force multiplier”.

About Royston Jones Jr.

Royston Jones Jr. is a senior digital reporter and occasional TV news anchor at Eyewitness News. Since joining Eyewitness News as a digital reporter in 2018, he has done both digital and broadcast reporting, notably providing the electoral analysis for Eyewitness News’ inaugural election night coverage, “Decision Now 2021”.