Residents plead for more time
SAN ANDROS, ANDROS — Residents of a San Andros shantytown have been given eviction notices, giving them 30 days to leave the area known as The Codd before their homes are demolished.
Officials yesterday told Eyewitness News the area is Crown Land exclusively designated for farming, but has seen an increase of shantytown residents since Hurricane Dorian decimated Abaco and Grand Bahama.
Island Administrator Joseph Ferguson put the total number residents living near The Codd at 1,800.
Yesterday, Ferguson confirmed the community was one of two large shantytowns in Andros – the other several miles away in Mastic Point,
The densely populated Codd shantytown is accessible via a track road.
When Eyewitness News entered the community, four people ran into nearby bushes.
Garbage and derelict vehicles littered the outskirts of the community; however, the area was relatively clean, with vegetation and fruit trees occupying space between the makeshift wooden structures.
There was no evidence of utility connections to the unregulated structures, though at least one home had small solar panels on the roof.
The owner of that home is work permit-holder Edwid Demelien, a farmer and father of four.
Demelien, 42, who said he has a work permit to farm, applied to the government to farm on Crown Land.
As he spoke to Eyewitness News, his wife held their young daughter, while her second youngest rode a bike around the home.
Their home has a kitchen, bedroom and toilet – with a makeshift cesspit to supplement the lack of a sewerage system.
A notice dated February 5, and purportedly signed by the Minister of Agriculture Michael Pintard, is fixed to Demelien’s door.
The notice stated the government’s intention to demolish the homes in the area and instructed the residents to leave.
“I was living in Nassau back in 2009,” Demelien said.
“I came to live here to start farming because I like to farm and I love the business about it.
“I was using someone’s land. Now, the government says we trespassing on [it’s] land.
“I hope they listen because I think if the government wants to do it, all that can happen.
“But, it’s because of the way the system is. If the system would give me the land I asked for I would not be in the same situation.
In the area, some structures were pieced together with a mixture of misshapen plywood and old sheets of metal, and were erected on a handful of cinder blocks, tied to pine logs.
Residents canvassed by Eyewitness News all claimed they had some status to reside or work in the country, but had nowhere else to go.
In front of one structure, which was under construction and roofless, a pile of new plywood sat on top of the raised wooden platform.
Andros Island Administrator Joseph Ferguson said officials on the island, with the government’s support, have mobilized and responded to the growing concern, but consistent and more frequent operations are need to combat the issue.
“We are trying to do our best to contain the overpopulation of illegal immigrants in Andros and we shall do our best,” Ferguson said during an interview.
“The problem is that Andros is a very lucrative and it is conducive for people to move from Abaco here. We have the land. We have the water. We have all the proper resources to sustain a thriving agricultural community.”
Ferguson said some residents of the shantytowns grow produce and sell it through “creative means” to packing houses.
While it remains unclear whether the increased population of shantytown residents is linked to the thousands displaced from Abaco, Ferguson and other residents believe there is a nexus.
Brent McCartney, a farmer in San Andros, said the issue is becoming increasingly problematic.
“Every day you see a new one riding a bike or they sneaking through the little corners and stuff,” McCartney said.
“The boat comes in and a few jump off the boat. One or two come off the plane, especially right after the hurricane, so it really an expansion. It’s really bad because it’s impacting the farmers. They are farming on people’s land.”
Yesterday, shantytown residents pleaded for more time and the government’s leniency and help.
Evitha Innocent, 62, a shantytown resident of 17 years, said she has nowhere else to go.
“I don’t know where to go, I have nowhere else to live,” she said with the help of another resident who translated from Creole to English.
Claudette Noreese, a mother of one and farmer, said: “I want the government to know if I can stay here because I don’t have anywhere else to go or if they can find a place for me to be because nowhere else to go.
“That’s what we were hoping. Like we don’t mind [if] we pay for it, like maybe every year ro something, but we don’t have nowhere else to go; like nowhere else to go.”
Noreese has lived in the shantytown for 12 years, and yesterday said the threat of eviction has caused her distress and anxiety.
“We can’t sleep at night,” she said.
“We can’t eat. Even when we get food to eat we are thinking we have to move. And my child in my hands right now, I don’t know where to go with them. We are asking please, please for the government to help us out.”
Clenise Lewis, who is married to a Bahamian and has lived in the shantytown for seven years, vowed she will leave after the 30 days period was complete and the government brings in tractors to demolish the area.
Asked where she will go, she shrugged, saying she did not know.
“I ain’t got place and I have two children,” she said.
“Whenever government carries tractor, I just bring my two children and leave the house because I ain’t get place; I don’t work; I don’t pay house.”
Markinson Joseph, who said he works at the Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) called on the government to show them leniency.