NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Echoing the concerns of his International Organization for Migration (IOM) counterparts in Haiti, IOM Bahamas Chief of Mission Jan-Willem Wegdam yesterday called for widespread dialogue on migration.
Giuseppe Loprete, IOM’s mission chief in Haiti, has called on the Bahamian government to investigate Haitian deportee claims of physical and sexual abuse by immigration authorities.
He also raised concerns over reports blood samples were taken from migrants without their consent.
Speaking to the matter in an interview with Eyewitness News, Wegdam echoed a similar call for government intervention.
“We are aware that the government started deportations of irregular migrants back to Haiti; we follow that,” he said.
“We are in touch with both the Haitian Embassy as well as we have teams from IOM who are working with the Haitian authorities and as soon as a plane arrives, there are teams from the government of Haiti and IOM in the airport and we do have some interviews with a selection of the migrants.
“We share that information and also I get reports from what happen there.
“During those interviews it became clear that a number of people stayed quite long in the detention centers, but also they reported some harassment, which we find is a bit concerning.
“Just to be sure that this is happening, we just ask the government to investigate it, make sure that if this is happening that something is done, if it’s not happening then clear it up.
“But be sure that it doesn’t happen anymore.”
Loprete said allegations of sexual assault have been reported to Haitian authorities and the Bahamas mission, while migrants screened last week displayed evident signs of physical abuse.
The UN agency said it has monitored the repatriation of over 300 Haitian migrants from The Bahamas, most of whom indicated they were from north Haiti.
The IOM has called for Bahamian officials to closely monitor the deportation process to ensure human rights are protected.
Allegations of mistreatment by Immigration authorities were highlighted in an IOM situation report dated November 5, which followed the repatriation of 105 migrants to Port-au-Prince.
Asked yesterday whether the organization is satisfied with the government’s handling of deportation efforts, Wegdam said, “Our big goal is that we believe that migration is good as long as it’s being done properly and we call that safe, regular and orderly, and that safe, regular and orderly migration benefits both the country where the people are coming from, because those countries get remittances, the people themselves because they have a better life, and also a country like The Bahamas.”
Wegdam continued, “We do think that [sending] those people back, that there’s a number of ways of doing that and IOM has globally all kind of programs where we are supporting governments with [sending] people back to their country of origin.
“We call those voluntary return programs. There are also other programs that we do or could do.”
The mission chief noted that while he has observed a lot of attention from the Bahamian public toward Haitian migrants, he has also observed a need for an open dialogue on the matter.
“Let’s talk to each other and see if we are talking about the facts,” Wedgam said.
“How many people are there? What are their intentions? How many are illegal? What are their rights? What is illegal exactly because a lot of people abuse the word illegal a little bit.
“…We believe that just focusing on [sending] people back, we believe that there’s more we can do and also have a broader dialogue about migration, if it is being done regularly, that it can actually be beneficial for The Bahamas as well.”
Dorian pounded the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama between September 1-3, claiming the lives of a confirmed 67 people — and displacing thousands, many of whom resided in Haitian shantytown communities in Abaco.
The Category 5 storm destroyed the two largest of the six shantytowns on the island – The Mudd and the Peas.
In the days following the storm, the government suspended the deportation of immigrants in the affected areas for two weeks before declaring that they were resuming repatriation efforts for all undocumented migrants.
Immigration continues to be a heightened emotional trigger in various circles.
Wegdam added yesterday that the IOM is looking forward to its continued partnership with the Bahamian government regarding migration issues.
“We just continuously offer our technical support in this migration world, which is super complex,” he said.
“IOM works in more than 100 countries. A lot of governments need capacity building or just support with this issue.
“We are very prepared in reaching out to support the government with that. We feel very welcomed. We are in very good dialogue with the government to discuss this.”