NASSAU, BAHAMAS — A group of twenty-three Haitian migrants, who were intercepted by the United States Coast Guard earlier this week, will be sent to Inagua until they can be repatriated.
Royal Bahamas Defence Force Commander Raymond King confirmed to Eyewitness News that an RBDF vessel will meet the Coast Guard at a location off Grand Bahama or the coast of Bimini to receive the migrants, who were detained about two days ago.
He noted plans were still in the preliminary stages; however, those migrants will then be transported to Inagua by the RBDF and detained at its maritime facility.
King said he could not confirm the extent of COVID-19 testing performed by the Coast Guard but noted they were confident that none of the migrants have displayed any signs of the virus.
He stressed there will be no contact with the wider community, adding efforts were being made to time the transport to ensure that a repatriation flight is ready upon the vessel’s landing in Inagua or shortly thereafter.
King said: “It was about a day ago the Coast Guard intercepted a vessel attempting to enter Florida with some 23 Haitian nationals on board. The vessel was intercepted, the persons were detained and they did some preliminary COVID-19 checks.
“According to our sea rider agreement any migrants caught being smuggled across from say Bimini, West End, Grand Bahama, and they are on a Bahamian registered vessel, we are obligated to receive those migrants from the United States.
“They will be returned to us and the vessel has I think two children on board.”
He continued: “The intent is for us to rendezvous with the Coast Guard vessel accept those migrants and the intent is to transport them to Matthew Town where they will be housed at the maritime facility there. And it is hoped that the Department of Immigration would have already made arrangements because I know some additional officers would have been flown in to Inagua today.
“Once the vessel arrives, hopefully we time it where the aircraft arrives and its just a transfer from the defence force boat or the maritime facility where they will be held under defence force guidance until we transport them to the airport, to the aircraft and they are repatriated.”
Videos of immigration officers landing in Inagua today have spiked fears the island could be exposed to potential cases of COVID-19. There has not been a confirmed case on Inagua to date.
King said: “We can ease the concerns of residents because those migrants will be brought in on the defence force vessel and they will be transferred directly to the maritime facility right there at the base end of Great Inagua, where they will be detained under defense force care until the next movement would be straight to the airport and they are repatriated.
King did not confirm the migrants were intercepted onboard a Bahamian-registered vessel, but noted there is an existing agreement that governs this process.
He added: “Knowing what the agreement states, that we would be obligated to receive these persons, they would have had to be on some platform that links them to The Bahamas.”