HUMAN rights activist Fred Smith said yesterday that recent comments from Immigration and Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell about the government’s immigration policy were “a farce” and “not based in reality.”
He said until allegations of abuse against those apprehending suspected illegal immigrants are independently probed, any statement from government that the claims are meritless “are meaningless.”
Mr Smith, a QC, made the comments a day after Mr Mitchell held a press conference to say that allegations of abuse against immigration officials did not match reports by officials. However, the minister said every public claim of abuse would be investigated.
The allegations were outlined in several articles published in The Tribune last week.
Mr Smith, who opposes the government’s new immigration policy, said Mr Mitchell’s “claim of evidence based detentions are a fantasy”.
He added: “All the facts point to an indiscriminate net being cast over communities, with illegals sorted from those with status after the fact – a practice which tramples the concept of due process underfoot.
“He (Mr Mitchell) claims that the Immigration Department’s actions are in accordance with the Constitution. How can that be, when people are being deported without access to an attorney, the right to apply for bail, a trial by jury and the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise? The Constitution demands all these things.
“He goes on to say that the department’s records do not show any evidence of abuse perpetrated against detainees. I can only assume the minister is joking. Did he really expect officers who might have been abusive to detail their abuse in a report? The Immigration Department cannot seriously be expected to police itself and until there is true independent oversight of all law enforcement, any such pronouncements of innocence are meaningless.”
In one incident, 19-year-old Dahene Nonord, born in the Bahamas to Haitian parents, told this newspaper that she was kicked several times, punched and put in a headlock by immigration officers on Wednesday morning.
Ms Nonord admitted that she was not carrying her Bahamian documents to show her legal status in the country when officials approached her while she was walking on Cowpen Road. She said she was “wrongfully” apprehended and held in the Carmichael Road Detention Centre.
Mr Mitchell said Ms Nonord filed a complaint on Thursday that is now under investigation by officials.
On November 1, the day the government’s new immigration restrictions took effect, officials apprehended suspected illegal immigrants in several parts of New Providence.
Last week, The Tribune also reported that the mother of two children picked up by Immigration that day claimed that her children slept on the floor of the Carmichael Road Detention Centre. The children were born in the Bahamas, their mother said.
The children, who were at home with an illegal immigrant when they were apprehended, were allegedly cold and hungry until they were released from the centre nearly three days later. When their caretaker was arrested, the children, who were then alone, were taken by the officers to the Detention Centre.
Bahamians Rose St Fleur and Charline Frederic last week claimed that they were beaten and verbally abused by Defence Force officers during an immigration raid on October 20. Ms St Fleur was eight months pregnant and Ms Frederic was six months pregnant at the time. The women, both 29, identified a female RBDF officer as the main aggressor.
Last week, Mr Smith also accused immigration officers of accosting him Wednesday afternoon because he was taking photographs of them carrying out apprehensions at the Lynden Pindling International Airport.
On Sunday, Mr Mitchell said the lawyer’s account did not match those of officials, adding that “the incident which he describes may have jeopardised the safety of an immigration operation.”
Yesterday Mr Smith said that if this is true, then the Fox Hill MP should prosecute him.
“Finally, the minister continues his recent trend of pointing to public support for his initiatives, as if this somehow validates their excesses,” Mr Smith said. “In case he has forgotten, modern democracies exist precisely to protect individuals from the tyranny of the majority, not to pull them under its tide.”