Rights Bahamas condemns government for immigration flip-flop

Rights Bahamas condemns government for immigration flip-flop

Christian Council president appeals for balance between humanity and law

NASSAU, BAHAMAS- Bahamas Christian Council President (BCC) President Bishop Delton Fernander yesterday made a personal appeal for the country to strike a balance between humanity and the law as activists accuse the government of a “savage, cold-hearted and illegal plan” to expel migrants affected by Hurricane Dorian.

In a statement yesterday, human rights group Rights Bahamas raked the Minnis administration for flip-flopping on earlier assurances migrant storm victims would be protected from deportation.

Fernander said immigration concerns have not come before the council, but instead gave his personal stance on the issue and Haiti’s appeal for a moratorium.

“We must find balance between our humanity and the law, where we will execute the law and also be humane in the way we execute the law,” he said.

“Those who are here illegally at some point will have to leave, and those laws will be have been in need of revalidation I believe the process should be given time for all of them to be treated with the dignity that is due them as registered legal working persons in The Bahamas.

Fernander said: “And so as a church we are concerned, we are watching and we will do our very best to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.”

For its part, RB says it has reported concerns for displaced migrants and their children to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

“We condemn this sudden about-face from the government’s earlier declaration that it will not target the migrant victims of the storm, and denounce the scheme for what is clearly is – a shameful attempt at political posturing aimed at currying favor with xenophobic elements of the populace,” the group’s statement read.

In the days immediately following the Category 5 hurricane, the government announced that it had suspended the deportation of immigrants in the affected areas – The Abacos, Freeport and Grand Bahama.

However, Immigration minister Elsworth Johnson has maintained irregular migrants living in shelters will not be safe from enforcement efforts.

On Monday, the Department of Immigration advised work permits for migrants are non-transferable and non-nationals seeking employment in The Bahamas must make applications from their home country.

Attorney General Carl Bethel told The Tribune, “If the employer is still paying them then they have a job, if not then they need to go home.”

In its statement, RB called Bethel’s comments “hollow and disingenuous”.

“How will those who have lost their property, their money and probably their travel documents manage to leave? This is nothing more than a precursor and excuse for an exercise of mass illegal deportation without due process.

The statement read:“…It is utterly unconscionable to further target, victimize and scapegoat people who have lost everything, including loved ones, in this shameful manner. Are they to have no time to even mourn in peace?

“To know that people have lost their homes, jobs, everything and then declare that they must prove they are employed and “satisfactory living conditions” – what ever this arbitrary phrase is supposed to mean – or else leave the country immediately, is the height of cynicism and cruelty. Migrants on work permits have broken no law; the storm was not their fault. The government’s actions are the definition of discrimination and inhumanity.”

Hurricane Dorian, the strongest hurricane to hit the Northwest Bahamas, flattened The Mudd and The Peas – the two largest shantytowns on Abaco – and decimated the economy on the island.

Of the shantytown communities in South Abaco including Sandbanks and the now decimated two, 70 percent were self-reportedly undocumented, according to the preliminary Abaco Shantytown Assessment Report, 2018.

Rights Bahamas noted in its statement that the government’s decision will trickle down to the children of migrants born in The Bahamas, “effectively denying them the right to Bahamian citizenship as mandated by the constitution”.

“Once expelled with their parents, we all know that they will never be allowed back in to access their birthright,” the group said.

“For many, this could mean being rendered stateless if their parents have passed away and/or and they have no way to prove their connection to whatever country our government is planning to expel them.”

Rights Bahamas further urged all of its  international partners to vocally condemn the government’s decision.

“We are also reporting the matter to the UNHCR and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, with a view to seeking precautionary measures to protect the migrant population in the Bahamas from arbitrary and illegal actions,” the statement added.