NASSAU, BAHAMAS – The United Nations has pledged to assist Haitian residents living in The Bahamas who were affected by Hurricane Dorian, according to the Office of the Prime Minister.
The announcement come amidst increased tension over immigration and ongoing criticism from various UN agencies.
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis met with UN Resident Coordinator Mariko Kagoshima about relief and reconstruction efforts on Grand Bahama and Abaco on Monday.
Minnis “welcomed the offer of assistance by the United Nations for Haitian residents affected by Hurricane Dorian,” the OPM said in a statement.
“The prime minister and Ms. Kagoshima discussed what role the UN can play to help Haitian residents displaced by the hurricane and relief initiatives being spearheaded by UN agencies, including, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), PAHO (Pan-American Health Organization), WFP (World Food Programme) and the IOM (International Organization for Migration).”
The deadly storm leveled the two largest of the six shantytowns on Abaco – The Mudd and The Peas.
A 2018 government report on the shantytowns estimated the total population for the six communities at over 3,500.
Of those residents, the report noted that overall 20 percent were undocumented at the time.
However, shantytown communities in South Abaco – including The Mudd, and The Peas – had 70 percent of respondents who were self-reportedly undocumented.
During that Monday meeting Minnis also emphasized that undocumented residents will be treated humanely.
“He noted that all residents affected by Hurricane Dorian were provided with shelter, food and other social assistance regardless of immigration status following the storm, and repatriations were suspended for a period of time,” the statement continued.
“The prime minister reiterated that anyone living in The Bahamas without legal status will be repatriated, according to the laws of The Bahamas.
“As has always been the case, Haitian residents who qualify will be provided with the opportunity to be regularized as laid out in the constitution”.
In the days immediately after the Category 5 hurricane, the government announced that it had suspended the deportation of immigrants in the affected areas.
However, just two weeks after this declaration, non-regularized individuals were warned that they “are not safe” and told to “go home” if they lost a job as a result of the storm.
Hundreds of Haitians have since been repatriated.
The government also issued a cease order with immediate effect for The Mudd, The Peas, Sandbanks and The Farm in order to prevent anyone from building or developing in those communities.
Officials have continuously echoed that no “illegals” will be allowed in the Family Relief Centre being built on Abaco.
Yesterday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs hit back at one of those UN agencies that has criticized the government’s immigration response.
United Nations official George Abu Al Zulof visited The Bahamas last week.
Ravina Shamdasani, the deputy spokesperson from the UN Human Rights Office, said the visit’s purpose was to verify “worrying” claims of “violence and abuse” by Bahamian law enforcement efforts.
Al Zulof visited shelters in Abaco and other hurricane impacted areas, Shamdasani said.
Zulof, a senior human rights advisor based in Jamaica, was reportedly invited by the government “to discuss human rights matters related to deportations, repatriations, and other related issues”.
However, the ministry took issue with the assertions, calling them “disturbing for a number of reasons.”
“The ministry is deeply concerned that a UN Official would report to the media regarding matters of such gravity without having the courtesy first to inform the government and allow the government the opportunity to provide a response,” the statement read.
“The ministry considers the behavior of Mr. Abu Al Zulof not to be in keeping with the way in which a UN official should conduct himself.
“Furthermore, it calls into question the impartial, balanced, neutral and ethical manner normally employed by the UN when it investigates allegations of alleged abuse or alleged human rights violations.”
The ministry expressed its deep appreciation of the support provided by the UN system during both the relief and recovery stages of Hurricane Dorian.
“The UN continues to have a strong presence in The Bahamas, providing invaluable technical support and advice,” the statement added.
“The Bahamas is committed to working with the UN in a transparent, frank and constructive manner as we together seek to rebuild the communities adversely impacted and to restore the livelihoods of thousands of citizens and residents as a result of Hurricane Dorian.
“The ministry had a very productive meeting with the resident coordinator and it is the hope of the government that our interactions with the UN will continue to be positive.”
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has called on the government to investigate Haitian deportee claims of physical and sexual abuse by immigration authorities.
IOM’s Chief of Mission in Haiti Giuseppe Loprete has said allegations of sexual assault have been reported to Haitian authorities and the Bahamas mission, while migrants screened after being deported displayed evident signs of physical abuse.