PM to UN: We are a country of law and order

PM to UN: We are a country of law and order
Photos: Yontalay Bowe/OPM

Govt. says resumption of immigration policies “humane and necessary”

MARSH HABROUR, ABACO – Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis suggested on Friday his administration won’t be pressured from international organizations over its immigration policy.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has called on The Bahamas to suspend its immigration enforcement and deportation exercises in the wake of deadly Hurricane Dorian.

Responding to questions from Eyewitness News Online, Minnis said: “We are a country of law and order. That’s all I would say.”

When asked about concerns over the UN body applying pressure on the issue, the prime minister repeated: “We are a country of law and order, first, okay.”

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis traveled to the island on Friday to assess recovery and reconstruction efforts, including security, the progress of the temporary housing program for Government workers and Abaco residents, and clean-up efforts.

In a weekend press statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the decision to resume enforcement and deportations was made after “careful analysis, at a time when it was deemed appropriately humane and necessary”.

In the days following the storm, the government announced the temporary suspension of immigration enforcement for the impacted areas.

However, the prime minister later advised Parliament the government will enforce the law and undocumented migrants in The Bahamas illegally could leave voluntarily or be forced to leave.

The OHCHR also expressed concerns about the government’s reversal of position on the issue.

In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the “painstaking, conscientious, but necessary decision” to resume the deportation of undocumented migrants was made after the urgent search and rescue phase passed and a “semblance of normalcy returned to the country”.

The storm impacted the northern islands on September 1-3, killing at least 65 people and displacing thousands.

Hundreds remain missing.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it relaxed its immigration enforcement policies before and after the deadly storm to ensure the “safety, security and well-being of all persons, irrespective of nationality, within its borders”.

The ministry said during the search and rescue phase all displaced victims were accommodated, irrespective of immigration status.

“All were accommodated at international standards, inclusive of three hot nourishing meals per day, bottled drinking water, clothing and medical attention by government board certified physicians, inclusive of free psychological evaluations afforded to any person thought to be affected by the trauma of Hurricane Dorian,” read the statement.

“Once the urgent search and rescue phase had passed and a semblance of normalcy returned to the country, The Bahamas government made the painstaking, conscientious, but necessary, decision to resume the implementation of its immigration laws.”

In a press briefing note on The Bahamas, dated October 11, OHCHR expressed concern over the deportation of 112 Haitian migrants on October 3.

Among those, the agency said, were people impacted by the deadly Category 5 storm in Abaco.

According to the ministry, all “illegal migrants” removed from The Bahamas were done so in compliance with the law and international human rights norms and standards.

“The Government of The Bahamas wishes to assure that there was adherence to all due process; and the requisite procedures for proper documentation via captured biometrics were followed to determine every individual’s constitutional right to reside lawfully in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas,” read the statement.

“Persons found wanting and in violation of the Immigration Act were lawfully removed, in accordance with the requisite court orders.”

The ministry added that contrary to what UN body alleged, the government had not received reports of storm victims leaving temporary shelters for fear of arrest or failing to avail themselves of humanitarian services.

It assured the body and international community that The Bahamas is a country that strictly adheres to the law, both local and international, adding that every man, woman and child within its jurisdictions will be afforded every fundamental right.

However, the ministry added anyone who violates the Immigration Act will be dealt with.

Last week, Attorney General Carl Bethel called it unfortunate that the OHCHR sought to apply standards to The Bahamas that its member states do not enforce in their own countries.

Bethel said the OHCHR should not prejudge an issue and make statements without all the facts, pointing out that the courts make the decision to deport and not immigration officers who detain.

While the prime minister has maintained the handling of undocumented migrants will be humane, there has been pushback over the decision to resume deportation exercises.