NASSAU, BAHAMAS – There have been “widespread, credible” reports that Bahamian immigration officials physically abused detainees and officials “solicited bribes” to either prevent detention following raids or facilitate release, according to the United States government.
“Numerous Haitian migrants reported being detained by immigration officials and solicited for bribes of $3,000 Bahamian dollars (one Bahamian dollar is equal in value to one U.S. dollar) to gain release from the detention centre,” read a U.S. Department of State’s 2018 Human Rights Report, which was released yesterday.
Pointing out that the government generally observed constitutional provisions that prohibit arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family home or correspondence, the report said, in shantytowns, “witnesses reported immigration officers’ habitual warrantless entry of homes without probable cause.”
It also indicated that immigration raids did not always observe constitutional provisions which prohibit arbitrary arrests and detention, noting that “one man claimed the BDOC (Bahamas Department of Corrections) unlawfully detained him for 33 days after he received a certificate of discharge”.
“Many Haitian claims that immigration officers targeted their dwelling once their undocumented status was discovered, demanding multiple bribes,” the report read.
“While the law usually requires a court order for entry into or search of a private residence, a police inspector or more senior police official may authorize a search without a court order where probable cause to suspect a weapons violation or drug possessions exists.”
The claims of migrants being solicited for bribes comes amid an ongoing police probe into allegations of an alleged visa scam in The Bahamas.
An affidavit filed in Washington, D.C., by FBI Special Agent Kevin Gounaud detailed the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) two-year probe into the alleged visa scam, which implicated senior immigration officials.
The investigation began in October 2016.
The government advised in December that the FBI briefed a team of investigators from the police force and attorneys from the Office of the Attorney General on its two-year probe, and local authorities were reviewing the findings.
In January, Police Commissioner Anthony Ferguson advised the media the matter was ongoing, but there have been no formal updates on the probe since then.
The latest human rights report also noted that Haitian activists advised that alleged victims of abuse by immigration officers filed few formal complains with Bahamian authorities, attributing this to a perception of “impunity for police and immigration authorities, and fear of reprisal among minority communities”.
The report noted that the government has denied these allegations and publicly committed to carry out immigration operations with due respect, and in keeping with international accepted human right standards.
Migrants accused police and immigration officials of excessive force and warrantless searches, according to the report.
The report added that the government took action in some cases against police officers, prison officials and other officials accused of abuse of power and corruption.