A FLORIDA Congresswoman yesterday vowed to continue to put pressure on the Bahamian government following the repatriation of 24 Cuban nationals, who were at the centre of a months-long protest and a hunger strike, to Havana, Cuba.
The announcement of the repatriation came from the Department of Immigration and follows months of protests by Cuban-American human rights activists in Miami over claims that undocumented migrants have been abused to “the point of torture” while detained at Her Majesty’s Prison and the Carmichael Road Detention Centre in Nassau.
Two members of the Miami-based Democracy Movement staged hunger strikes and there were demonstrations in front of the Bahamian Consulate and near the piers where Bahamas-bound cruise ships embark.
The protest drew support from members of the US Congress and Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado.
The Democracy Movement claimed that the detainees had been beaten by guards, denied access to adequate food, water and medical care, and deprived of the ability to file asylum claims, claims all denied by The Bahamas’ Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell.
Mr Mitchell said that the government had not received any specific, credible claims of abuse and no investigation had been conducted. He said officials had looked into a ‘video’ released by supporters of the detained Cubans allegedly showing men being struck by guards in the detention centre and determined that it was “cleary a staged event.”
Originally it was thought that the men would be taken to Panama after that country granted the Cuban detainees visas and territorial asylum.
Yesterday, Congresswoman Illeana Ros-Lehtinen protested the government’s decision to repatriate Cubans to what she called “the Castro Dictatorship”.
“Members of my staff and have been coordinating with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) personnel who are on the ground in Nassau. The UNHCR officials inform us that the Cubans who are being repatriated may not be the same ones who have been offered asylum in Panama,” the Congresswoman said in a statement.
“The Bahamian government has finally acknowledged that the beatings that were caught on video occurred and we hope that the new security cameras, as well as the removal of these abusive guards, will have some positive impact on the lives of these freedom seeking Cubans. It is shameful that because the Bahamian government rejected their refugee status, the State Department policy states that the US cannot take them in after proper vetting.
“I will continue to monitor this sad situation and I will continue to press the Bahamian government that it must cease the deplorable detainment conditions under which Cubans are not fed adequately nor treated humanely; it must honour the generous asylum protections offered by third countries, such as Panama and it must coordinate with US officials and the UNHCR so that the present conditions of a lack of information ceases,” she said.