Minister says no instructions from PM, Cabinet to provide any asylum
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, which has leveled communities in Grand Bahama and Abaco, rendering thousands homeless and in need of emergency relief, the government has suspended the deportation of immigrants in the affected areas, according to Minister of Immigration Elsworth Johnson.
“Having regard that we’re now facing a humanitarian crisis, the government is taking the decision that those immigration policies or enforcement measures suspended forthwith in the affected areas, that’s the Abacos and Freeport, Grand Bahama,” the minister said.
He was responding to questions from the media outside the Churchill Building.
“The government is encouraging as you have seen all and sundry regardless of origin, immigration status to take advantage of social services, the shelters, the healthcare, as we have always been doing in The Bahamas — anybody in The Bahamas can get education; anybody can get healthcare — but even more so in these circumstances,” he said.
“You have seen an excellent example by the international community; our brother’s and sisters who have come in whether it be from America, the Dutch, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica who are providing service without regard to origin or immigration status.
“You have seen boats leave Abaco and Freeport and some persons who are undocumented are allowed to get on those boats before Bahamians and everyone is waiting in an orderly manner.
According to Johnson, immigration officers on other Family Islands have “strict instructions” to fulfill their mandate to apprehend illegal migrants.
“We still have the constitutional right to safeguard our borders and we still appreciate that there may be persons in those other islands who may not have a right to be here, and so the immigration department has strict instructions to enforce in the outer islands, but most certainly for anybody that is affected or comes out of those affected areas, they have nothing to worry about.”
As it relates to asylum, Johnson said he has received no instructions from the Cabinet or the prime minister to consider any asylum to anyone.
He continued, “We know that there are a number of persons who ought not be here and for those affected areas, no; I have said to the director of immigration, ‘director, I have a serious concern that sometimes we do these enforcement measures that no one is being arrested for harboring, so I want to say to the Bahamian public — I don’t want anybody to be calling me —if you are found harboring anybody that will assist us greatly with the $6,000 that you’d have to pay.
“But just to underscore, no one who is affected by Hurricane Dorian — I have gone to almost all of the shelters; I’ve given out two of my personal numbers; 376-7723 or 376-7599 — if anyone comes in a raises or you even think they have the intention to raise the issue of someone’s immigration status, call me directly. I have strict instructions from the prime minister to deal with that posthaste.
Dorian relentlessly pounded Grand Bahama and Abaco on September 1-3.
It claimed the lives of at least 50 people. That figure is expected to rise to “staggering” figures as assessment teams continue search and recovery efforts on both islands.
Droves of residents from communities such as The Mudd in Abaco have taken to the government complex for shelter, but with limited access to running water and other basic sanitary items, conditions have deteriorated.
As to how long the government planned to suspend deportations on the affect islands, Johnson said that was not a decision for him to make, but the government recognizes that there are traumatized people without homes, who have lost family members, lost ones, and all the worldly possessions.
Asked about efforts to rebuild on Crown Land against the building code, Johnson said he believes the prime minister will address the matter as there is “every intention not to allow homes to be constructed in an area that you very well know is below sea level and human beings ought not to inhabit those areas.”