Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell (left) addressing a Special Permanent Council Meeting of the Organisation of American States (OAS) in Washington, DC, yesterday. At centre is OAS Assistant Secretary General Albert Ramdin and at right is Ambassador of Guyana Bayney Karran.
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Haitian ambassador to the Organisation of American States raised concerns yesterday about xenophobia and mistreatment of Haitians in the Bahamas during a special OAS sitting in Washington, DC.
Addressing Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell, Ambassador Bocchit Edmond called on the Bahamas government to consider launching a public campaign designed to underscore the notion that “verbal abuse” of Haitians is “unfair and unjust”.
Mr Edmond frequently emphasised that he did not wish to “cast aspersions” on the decisions of the Bahamian government, but he nonetheless raised several concerns about the policy measures this country has taken to deal with illegal immigration.
In his response, Mr Mitchell rejected suggestions of widespread abuse of Haitians and noted that the Bahamas government does not sanction discrimination.
“...I would like to raise the concern of my government as to the verbal abuse to which Haitian immigrants have been exposed in the Bahamas,” Mr Edmond said. “As you may know, sir, there are many great Haitians presently in the Bahamas, but that indeed have been in line with the immigration requirements for years…and yet too many of them are victims of certain abuse and denigrating (remarks) and I should go as far as to say frankly rankly discriminating behaviour simply because they are Haitians.”
“Then there are black Bahamians who are summarily interpreted as being Haitian and who have been subjected to the same treatment for that reason. I would very much hope that your government would take under advisement to launch a campaign of information of some kind to really underscore the fact that this is unfair and unjust. I believe the vast majority of Bahamian citizens are very good, but when I read the press or have seen a couple of video clips on the Internet or heard and read for myself a number of these statements that have been made, I have to say these are frankly inflammatory and cannot fail but to stir up feelings that are not conducive to peaceful coexistence.
“So I would implore you, sir, to, I won’t say so much to educate, but to inform, to make it clear the measures are being taken, measures in the public domain, measures that I have stated from the outset are absolutely in the purview of Bahamian sovereign decisions, but we also know that the Bahamas as do we all has the obligation to respect basic human rights.”
In his response, Mr Mitchell said much of what is represented in the press about the treatment of Haitians in the Bahamas is false.
“To speak for a moment about the question of prejudice and discrimination and what is said in the press and social media,” he said, “part of the reason we are here is because of the misinformation that was spun either in the press or social media about what this is. The government of the country is not responsible for what is in the press or what the people say in the press, although it might in fact reflect in some instances what public opinion is. But I think every Bahamian understands the nature of prejudice and bigotry and discrimination and certainly the government does not sanction any of these things and I want to separate myself from any effort which is suggesting that one ought to discriminate against any national group. This is a generic policy not expressed in terms of any national group.”
Nonetheless, Mr Mitchell acknowledged that many Bahamians are frustrated with the country’s illegal immigration problem and with having to absorb “hundreds and thousands” of illegal migrants.
“Our prime minister, when he speaks, often recounts a story of the first black member of parliament (who) was in fact a man named Stephen Dillet who was born in Haiti, came with his mother after the revolution as a child,” he said. “Our governor general who just retired, Sir Arthur Foulkes, his mother was Haitian. Haitians and people of Haitian descent are integrated in the country. And my view is that what you are seeing, you say expressed in the press, does not represent the majority view in our country. What is of concern to a small country is the question of can you continue to absorb hundreds and thousands of illegal migrants coming into a country undocumented knowing what your obligations are in the international arena for the security of your border and also for the future identity and safety of your own state. That is simply unsustainable and so we have an obligation, both internationally and within our own domestic borders to our own population to ensure, not that migrant stops, but that those who come to the Bahamas are properly documented to be in the Bahamas and come through the front door and not through the back door. That is what this is aimed at correcting.”