Land unit plans to conduct another assessment with a couple of weeks, says minister
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Nearly two months after the government posted eviction notices ordering residents in shantytowns in North Andros to leave, Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Michael Pintard said the population in these unregulated communities on the island has somewhat dwindled.
On February 5, residents of the San Andros shantytown were given eviction notices giving them 30 days to leave before their homes were demolished.
An estimated 1,800 people reside in shantytowns in the area.
In an interview with Eyewitness News, Pintard said his ministry has been working on the matter and continues to consult with the Office of the Attorney General in preparation to take the “next step”.
He stopped short of saying demolition.
“There has been movement,” the minister said.
“Some groups have literally reached out and asked for more time to relocate.
“We have had at least one application by a church; if they can purchase the property that they are on.
“We understand that the numbers that were there before are not there now, which suggest that some persons would have moved.”
Shantytowns in New Providence and the Family Islands have been identified as high-risk areas amid the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
He acknowledged the vulnerability of those residents.
According to Pintard, a team from the land unit travelled before the COVID-19 lockdown to make another assessment.
He said ministry personnel will regroup within the next couple of weeks to make a further assessment before consulting the Office of the Attorney General.
“We are working closely with the attorney general’s office, so that that they can take the next step,” Pintard said.
“Of course, immigration is clearly aware, so that where squatters are non-Bahamians, immigration then has to determine whether they have status and address that issue.
“There has clearly been movement.”
The shantytown issue is not exclusive to North Andros.
Amid reports of a large number of squatters in a church in Marsh Harbour, Abaco — the majority of whom are believed to be former shantytown residents of ‘The Mudd’, which was destroyed by Hurricane Dorian —immigration officers detained 109 people on Saturday morning.
At least 40 people were released after demonstrating their right to reside in the country.
However, 35 of them were found to be illegally residing in The Bahamas and were expected to be charged.
Another 14 people, who claimed to be Bahamian citizens, were required to produce valid documentation or face prosecution, while nine people had expired permits and will be charged, according to immigration officials.
According to Director of Immigration Clarence Russell on the community’s concerns was on area residents not adhering to emergency orders that mandate social distancing and a 24-hour curfew.
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis has said it is critical for the government to remove all shantytowns, insisting those communities “break our laws; they are unsafe; they are unhealthy; they are health risks; and they’re unhygienic”.