Attorney condemns govt. for “picking on” shantytown residents, and alienating the Haitian Bahamian electorate
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Prominent human rights attorney Fred Smith, QC, yesterday castigated the government’s ongoing eviction process of shantytown residents from structures rebuilt in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.
He urged the government to stop picking on, victimizing and discriminating against people of Haitian origin living in The Bahamas.
The government has issued more than 50 eviction notices on structures in Abaco and Elbow Cay since late June.
“I’m a little surprised that in the midst of this pandemic and in the aftermath of the Dorian catastrophe in Abaco, the government is still trying to make people homeless,” Smith told Eyewitness News.
“Where in the world are people who are evicted going to go?”
Dorian pounded the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama last September, displacing thousands, many of whom resided in the shantytown communities in Abaco.
In the aftermath of the storm, the government engaged several local contractors to assist in the clean-up of those areas.
It also issued a no-build order for the areas.
Smith said the government has already demolished the remains of “perfectly good” buildings in The Mudd, Pigeon Peas, and the Farm Road communities.
“The threat to now evict people to make them homeless seems ill-conceived,” he continued.
“I would hope the Cabinet would have better things to do in this pandemic than to decide where a person should or shouldn’t live in Abaco right now.”
Smith said he was not promoting or encouraging anybody to build without permits.
“The reality is in the Family Islands and in Nassau, you have people building and repairing and constructing all over the place,” Smith said.
“What is the obsession with the people with Haitian ethnic origin?
“…But the fact that they obsess about people of Haitian ethnic origin, makes it unconstitutional.
“You can’t keep picking on people just because they are of Haitian ethnic origin…We have to stop making the Haitian people the scapegoat for every social economic and cultural ill that is perceived in this country.”
Smith continued: “It just is unacceptable as a nation. I urge the government to stop doing it.
“Sir Cecil Wallace Whitfield is spinning in his grave to watch this FNM government persecute, victimize and discriminate against people because of their ethnic, racial, and birthplace origins.
“It’s unacceptable for the FNM to do it, just as it was unacceptable for the PLP to have done it.”
He insisted that if the law was being applied equally and in a non-discriminatory manner, he would have “no complaint”.
The preliminary Abaco Shantytown Assessment Report, 2018, estimated the total population for the six communities at 3,581.
Of those residents, the report noted that 20 percent were undocumented at the time.
Smith said the government has done a disservice to the 80 percent of people in that community who are either Bahamian citizens, permanent residents, legal work permit holders, or citizens in waiting.
He also cried shame on the length of time it takes for people to receive citizenship.
“There are thousands of young Bahamians, born in The Bahamas, just of Haitian heritage and parentage, who are entitled to be registered as Bahamian citizens,” he said.
“Why should it take years, sometimes decades to register people is an actual travesty of justice in The Bahamas.”
The veteran attorney further cautioned the government against alienating possible future votes.
“I remind the government that they are coming to an election shortly and it would behoove them not to alienate the Haitian Bahamian electorate,” Smith said.
“Putting people out of the streets is inhumane, it’s degrading, and it is political suicide in some [of] these constituencies.”