Johnson: Immigration investigating social media videos
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis yesterday said officers are mandated to treat people humanely in response to videos depicting officers mocking individuals stopped for questioning.
In two separate videos, a Bahamian officer can be seen quizzing several people on their knowledge of The Bahamas, while others laugh off camera.
In one video, three men are seated on the back of a truck as if apprehended as an officer asks them to sing the Bahamian national anthem.
Last night, Minnis said his administration “does not support” any law enforcement agency in The Bahamas improperly treating people within the country.
For his part, Minister of Immigration Elsworth Johnson said an investigation will be conducted.
In one of the videos, a uniformed officer asks a man on a bicycle on the side of a road: “When did we gain Independence?”
As the officer leans in closer, the man responds: “That’s July 10th”.
The officer asks: “July 10, what? What year?”
The man hesitates, before saying: “I forgot”.
The officer then asks: “What is the national fish of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas? What is the national tree? What is the national flower? You ‘ain’ know none of that?”
The man answers: “No, I know, but I forget that.”
The officer asks who is the prime minister, calling by name only, Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands and former Prime Minister Perry Christie. To each of these, the man responds: “No.”
However, when the officer asks if attorney Fred Smith, QC, is the prime minister, the man initially says yes, before seeking to correct himself.
“Not Fred Smith, not Fred Smith,” he repeats.
Another person, who does not come into view of the camera, can be heard laughing at this.
The officer continues to question the man, asking if human rights activist Louby Georges is the prime minister of The Bahamas.
The man responds: “Not Louby Georges. Louby Georges, ‘dat’s’ Haitian.”
With his hand raised, revealing what appears to be an identification card in his hand, the officer tells the man: “Louby Georges is not Haitian. Louby Georges is Bahamian and you see what you have here. You have a spousal [permit]. You ‘is’ a Bahamian. You are not a Haitian, Bahamian. You only could be one. Either you are Bahamian or you are Haitian. Which one are you?”
The man shrugs, before telling the officer that his wife is Bahamian.
The officer repeats the question, this time telling him: “So you are Bahamian now.”
The man answers: “Yes”.
At the response, the officer hands the man his identification card, and tells him: “Have a good morning.”
In another 17-second recording, the same officer can be seen asking three men if they know the Bahamian national anthem. The first two men do not respond, but the third says: “Yes.”
The officer tells him to sing it.
He begins: “Oh…” before trailing off, and asks whether the officer wants him to sing the Bahamian national anthem.
Another officer in the background remarks: “Ya boy gone to say oh say can you see, you know.”
The officers burst into laughter as the video ends.
It is unclear whether those men were detained.
Both videos made the rounds on social media yesterday.
When asked in the foyer of the House of Assembly about the recording, Minnis said: “We do not support that”.
While he said he had not seen the videos, the prime minister insisted that in all immigration enforcement exercises, officers are mandated to treat people humanely.
For his part, Johnson said the officer charged with the responsibility of marshalling law and order must “respect the dignity of the human person”.
“I understand there are some films that are being circulated,” Johnson told Eyewitness News Online.
“Most certainly I have sent those to the director to have those looked into. But the standard is the respect for the dignity of the persons no matter who they are — regardless of origin, race, sex, political opinion and/or their immigration status.
“You are to treat people with respect. That is the standard that we adhere to in The Bahamas and that is standard that will be upheld. And to the extent that anybody, any of the law enforcement agencies — but in particular immigration — does not comply with that, we will have to deal them.”
When asked whether the behavior and line of questioning of the men in the videos meets the standard he referred to, Johnson said he sent the video to the director of immigration, adding he was “not prepared to comment on that at this time”.
“I’m expressing what the standard is and we will conduct an investigation,” Johnson continued.
“To the extent that it does not meet the standard of treating people with the requisite dignity, courtesy and respect that any human being deserves — that’s regardless of who they are, where they come form or their status, we have to deal with that.”
While the prime minister has previously maintained immigration enforcement will be humane, there has been pushback over the government’s decision to resume deportation exercises in the wake of deadly Hurricane Dorian.
Haiti’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Bocchit Edmond made a direct appeal to The Bahamas government for a moratorium on repatriations for migrants impacted by Hurricane Dorian.
Edmond said he was concerned by rhetoric concerning the deportation of undocumented or irregular migrants given that “hundreds” have lost their documents, and remain in shelters.
At the time, Edmond noted the deportation or repatriation of Haitian migrants without due process is a “very common practice” by The Bahamas government, and said longstanding concerns have deepened in Dorian’s wake.
Earlier this month, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights also called on the government to suspend mass immigration enforcement policies to allow for due process entitled under international law.
The government temporarily suspended deportation exercises immediately following the storm and encouraged storm victims, regardless of origin or status, to take advantage of emergency and relief services.
However, the resumption of immigration enforcement exercises was announced at the end of September.