Rights Bahamas members air concerns before Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Fed-up with the immigration laws of The Bahamas and with how Haitians and other nationals are treated, members of Rights Bahamas did not mince words as they recently addressed the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on May 10th, voicing their concerns at a hearing on the rights of migrants and their descendants in The Bahamas.

The hearing was held at the regional headquarters of the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica.

The Commission heard the complaints of Rights Bahamas members Stephanie St. Fleur, Louby Georges and Dawrin Thompson.

The trio were also accompanied by human rights activist Frederick Smith, QC, and Joseph Darville.

The request for the hearing was filed by Rights Bahamas in conjunction with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, which is headquartered in Washington, DC. This led the Bahamas government to becalled before the 172nd session of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR), to respond to a petition from Rights Bahamas on the treatment of migrants.

Representing the government of The Bahamas at the session was State Minister for Legal Affairs, Elsworth Johnson.

In addressing the commissioners, Stephanie St. Fleur claimed that since 2015, The Bahamas  has become even more intolerant of Haitian migrants and their descendants, targeting them with increasingly hostile rhetoric and social policies.

St. Fleur told the commission that the government was seeking to institutionalize and legalize discrimination as part of a proposed new Immigration  Act [the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill].

“Perversely the Bahamas seeks to make stateless persons who were born in the Bahamas ‘aliens’ and liable to be deported to Haiti, while at the same time, annually giving thousands of Haitians work visas to come to the Bahamas and investors residency and citizenship,” St. Fleur said.

The human rights activist also claimed that in late 2017, The Bahamas broadcast a terrifying ultimatum to migrants and ‘illegal citizens’, commanding them  to  voluntarily return to their country of origin or face ‘aggressive pursuit and deportation’ in the new year.

As a result, St. Fleur told the commission that panic struck The Bahamas.

Activist Louby Georges told the Commission that anti-Haitian prejudice is deeply ingrained in the Bahamas and Haitians are a scapegoat for any problem.

Georges, who also touched on raids and the discrimination of Haitians, said nowhere is the complete disrespect for human  rights more evident than at the Immigration Detention Center, claiming that the Center is illegal and no law provides for its existence.

Georges told the commission of a Kenyan man who was detained for six-and-a-half years, who was allegedly subject to violent beatings and tear-gassed and contracted contagious diseases, including tuberculosis.

Georges also spoke of the proposed new Immigration Act, which he told the commission makes people born in The Bahamas who have a right to  citizenship, ‘aliens’ liable to be deported if they do not register between the ages of 18 and 19.

Georges said the proposed Act fails to address the continuing roadblocks which deny  children of undocumented Haitian immigrants the legal right to public education and drive them from classrooms and from the University of The Bahamas.

Georges surmised that by all indication, the government of The Bahamas intends to maintain migrants and their descendants in a position of social, political, and economic inequality.

Meanwhile Dawrin Thompson called on the Commission to conduct an on-site visit to The Bahamas, including an unrestricted visit to the Detention Center and the safe house.

He also called on the commission to request information from the State on how its Immigration  policies and practices are compatible with its obligations under international human rights law;  and continue to monitor the situation in The Bahamas.

Up to press time last night, State Minister for Legal Affairs Elsworth Johnson could not be reached for comment on the outcome of the commission’s hearing.