OPERATION SECURE: PM warns shantytown residents to relocate

OPERATION SECURE: PM warns shantytown residents to relocate
Prime Minister Philip Davis (center) during a national address broadcasted on February 19, 2023.

PM unveils national framework policy for Immigration

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Prime Minister Philip Davis last night warned Bahamians and registered migrants residing in shanty towns that they will be required to relocate as he unveiled his administration’s national framework policy on immigration.

Davis furthered that documented migrants living in unregulated communities will be asked to relocate at their expense or their employer’s, or face repatriation.

He also outlined crackdowns on unscrupulous landowners and businesses that exploit and abuse migrants through a collaborative security operation between the Royal Bahamas Police Force, The Defence Force, and the Department of Immigration, titled ‘Operation Secure’.

The national framework centers on three pillars: enforcement of laws; protecting our borders by decentralizing the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, and international cooperation.

“Our priority is decisive action, based on the laws of our land,” Davis said. 

“Undocumented migrants will continue to be processed and repatriated. This is already underway and will be greatly expanded in the coming days and weeks. 

“Documented migrants living in unregulated communities will be required to relocate at their expense or their employer’s expense, or face repatriation.”

He continued: “And any Bahamian citizens found to be living in these communities will be required to relocate. In addition, we must also hold accountable the entire network of people who make possible these shantytowns.”

“Operation Secure targets those entering our borders illegally, as well as any Bahamian citizen or legal resident who is breaking our laws. If you are a Crown Land holder who is unlawfully leasing land, you will be prosecuted. If you are engaged in human smuggling, you will be prosecuted. 

Davis said: “And if you are employing migrants illegally, you will be prosecuted. We will have a zero-tolerance policy for anyone seeking to break or circumvent the laws of The Bahamas.”

The prime minister stressed his administration’s plan to address irregular migration and shantytowns is already underway with the largest number of migrants repatriated last year in the country’s history – 4.748 people. 

He said 1,024 people have been repatriated for the year to date, adding that there has been only one successful migrant vessel landing since he took office last year September.

Davis said he understood the frustration experienced throughout the islands, adding that it was clear successive administrations “could have done more to protect our borders, enforce our laws, eliminate shantytowns, or build an international coalition to address the root problem.”

He said the government has been working systematically for more than a year to conduct surveillance and gather evidence to establish that shantytown communities are unlawful and expanding, and credited those efforts to its successful application to have the injunction blocking evictions and demolition discharged.

Davis said the government has moved immediately to launch Operation Secure after the injunction was discharged.

“The operation is focused on identifying irregular migrants, documented migrants, and Bahamians living in these communities, and addressing their status in a comprehensive and coordinated manner,” he said. 

“We cannot have shantytowns on our islands: they are unsafe, a hazard to public health, they are against the law, and they directly impact our way of life.”

Davis underscored the pillars of CARICOM’s plan to address the Haitian migration crisis including coordinating with Haitian stakeholders to restore security; strengthening the Haitian National Police; developing a plan to hold elections to restore government; and securing support from international partners.

According to Davis, the details of those plans will be further developed with regional leaders in the coming weeks. 

Davis pointed to his decision not to sign a pledge to take on more refugees at last year’s Summit of Americas notwithstanding the signatory of regional nations like Barbados and Jamaica, adding that while Bahamians are compassionate, the country could not take on new burdens.

“Our small nation cannot possibly shoulder any more of a burden,” he said.

“We are standing strong on this position. Despite pressure, earlier this year, when the United Nations called for countries in our region to halt deportations to Haiti, once again, I decided to continue repatriations.”

He said: “This is a decision I made for the benefit of all Bahamians and future generations of Bahamians. The Bahamas is for Bahamians, and for those who are prepared to follow the laws of our country. We simply cannot afford open borders.”

Last night, Opposition leader Michael Pintard called the speech “deeply disappointing” as it lacked practical steps to address the immigration crisis beyond the standard government interventions.

About Ava Turnquest

Ava Turnquest is the head of the Digital Department at Eyewitness News. Her most notable beat coverage spans but is not limited to politics, immigration and human rights, with a focus especially on minority groups. In 2018, she was nominated by the Bahamas Press Club for “The Eric Wilmott Award for Investigative Journalism”. Ava is deeply motivated by her passion about the role of fourth estate, and uses her pen to inform, educate and sensitize the public.