NASSAU, BAHAMAS — United Nations human rights experts today called on the Bahamas to halt planned demolitions this week of approximately 600 homes at two informal settlements known as the Farm and the Farm Road in Abaco.
In a statement released this morning, the experts cited health and humanitarian concerns that “the community of largely Haitian descendants and migrants numbering up to 2,000 people, including many women and children, are at serious risk of becoming homeless as a result of the clearance expected to take place today”.
After placing final eviction notices on remaining shantytown homes in The Farm, Abaco, earmarked for demolition, the government is expected to tear down those unregulated structures today.
The UN experts include Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context; Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons; Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; and Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
“The planned forced evictions and demolitions constitute a serious violation of the human right to adequate housing and will result in arbitrary internal displacement,” the experts said in a statement released today.
“To make things worse, this is scheduled to occur during the COVID-19 pandemic, threatening to expose an already vulnerable minority to all kinds of risks for their health and safety.
“Most of these people have nowhere else to go. If their homes are destroyed, they are at serious risk of falling into homelessness and extreme poverty. While it is important to move away from informal settlements lacking in safety and infrastructure, vulnerable minorities should not be left behind in the Government’s efforts to rebuild more resilient communities.”
In early September 2019, Hurricane Dorian ravaged several parts of the Bahamas islands, completely destroying several informal settlements on Abaco, where many Haitian migrants and Bahamians of Haitian origin used to live. After several months of living in evacuation shelters, many of the survivors had to completely rebuild their homes – it is these that the authorities intend to destroy.
In addition to the risk of becoming homeless, some migrants among the residents of the two informal settlements fear that they may be detained and deported, the UN experts said.
In recent years, there have been reports of undocumented migrants experiencing ill-treatment in detention, before being deported. Families have also been separated as a result.
“We urge the Government of the Bahamas to immediately cease further evictions and housing demolitions. Furthermore, we call on the Government to review its migration policy, which includes the widespread use of detention and expulsion of migrants,” the experts said.
The Supreme Court of the Bahamas has already granted court orders to halt evictions in informal settlements on the Bahamas’ main island New Providence.
“We urge the Bahamas to follow due legal process and respect existing judicial orders. This includes not only waiting for the outcome of the Supreme Court full review of the Government’s policy to demolish informal settlements, but also to ensure full adherence to international human rights standards governing relocations, evictions, and internal displacement.
“People living in informal settlements need to be consulted, receive security of tenure, and either be allowed to remain where they currently live – or if they need to be relocated for safety reasons – be properly rehoused and provided with access to water, sanitation, electricity and access to other essential public services.”
The UN human rights experts urged the Government of the Bahamas, which currently holds the Vice Presidency at the Human Rights Council, to ensure that its internal policies are implemented in full compliance with international human rights standards.
A judicial review of shantytown demolition before the Supreme Court has yet to be ruled on.
A total of 177 shantytown residents made the legal bid for the court to protect their homes.
An injunction was granted in 2018 protecting those homes from eviction, and from the homes being disconnected from services of demolished.
While counsel for the applicants has sought for the court to expand the injunction to cover all shantytown structures until the completion of the judicial review, at current the homes being demolished are not subject to the court matter — an argument Bannister has made to continue demolition of structures in The Farm and elsewhere.
However, Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister has advised that 30 structures in the community will not be demolished.