NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Rights Bahamas President Stephanie St. Fleur yesterday joined calls for a coroner’s inquest into the missing and dead that remain unaccounted for in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.
St. Fleur said recent revelations from former Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands over the government’s handling of the issue underscores previous warnings from the organization on the “lack of accountability” from officials.
“They didn’t take this seriously or in a sense that they were actually dealing with people or actually thinking they had to give an account to the survivors and their families,” she told Eyewitness News.
“Where does this leave the family now? They have to go back and report their loved-ones missing again. That’s not fair to the families. This is not even fair to us.”
Dorian displaced thousands as it ripped through parts of Grand Bahama and Abaco on September 1-3.
The Category 5 storm decimated two of the largest shantytowns on Abaco – The Mudd and The Peas – where the majority of the respondents to the government’s 2018 survey were self-reportedly undocumented Haitian migrants.
Thousands of people had to be evacuated from both islands.
Officials reported more than 2,000 people – the majority of which were from Abaco – were being housed in shelters across New Providence in the immediate aftermath of the monster storm.
In October, the number of evacuees in shelters declined by more than 50 percent in just one day.
At the time, authorities attributed this decline to individuals returning home to storm-ravaged areas or finding shelter elsewhere.
However, migrant shelterees interviewed at the Kendal G. L. Issacs Gymnasium claimed numbers had significantly dwindled because they believed people who left the property were being picked up by immigration and deported.
Officials said they did not request the status of individuals living in the shelters, nor did law enforcement enter any of the facilities to conduct checks.
The government had temporarily suspended the deportation of immigrants in the affected areas after the storm.
However, weeks less than a month later those repatriations continued, resulting in the government deporting hundreds of people to Haiti.
It remains unclear exactly how many storm victims were deported following the storm.
But St. Fleur believes many individuals who were deported had loved ones who were unaccounted for.
She said her team took a list of names from evacuees of missing loved ones in the days immediately following the storm and submitted those lists – over 30 pages and 400 names – to the National Emergency Management Agency.
She noted that she never got any feedback from NEMA.
“They went straight from rescue and recovery to deport those people,” St. Fleur said.
“They didn’t even give them a chance to mourn. To me, the prime minister says, ‘where is your heart’, where is your soul, that was heartless.”
Sands said last week that the population of undocumented migrants has paid a “premium with possessions lost, lives of loved ones lost, and we have not consistently assured that they were afforded safe spaces to interact with government agencies “.
He admitted that the handling of the Dorian missing and dead were poorly handled over multiple government agencies and called for a coroner’s inquest to bring closure to grieving families.
While she supported the need for action, St Fleur questioned the timing of Sands’ comments.
St Fleur described his contribution as “distasteful” given that he was the health minister at the time.
“That was a shock to me to see that now that he is no longer sitting in Cabinet now that he would open up and talk about it,” she said.
“But they have to understand that we are talking about human life. To me that isn’t something that should have come out now because he is not a sitting minister, that is something that should have been dealt with at the time, during the time it happened.
“The public has a right to know these things. The living victims of Abaco has a right to know these things…I think that was kind of distasteful because he is no longer sitting, now the truth is coming out.
“How fair is that to the surviving victims and those who still to this day haven’t gotten a proper closure from September.”
In a statement responding to Sands’ claims, National Security Minister Marvin Dames said lists of missing reports from multiple agencies and NGOs were complied by police reconciled.
He advised yesterday that to date the police missing persons list currently stands at 279.
The latest figure comes three weeks after police advised members of the media that the number stood at 33.