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Insight: Transparency Needed On Immigration Probes

The government's new immigration policy took another hit as allegations of abuse at the hands of an immigration official surfaced over the weekend. This has brought renewed calls for accountability from the government as it investigates the claims. Tribune news editor Taneka Thompson looks at the issue.

Pressure continues to mount for Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell with fresh allegations of abuse at the hands of those entrusted to protect and police this nation’s borders.

The most heinous allegation so far emerged over the weekend with reports that a Jamaican woman claimed an immigration officer forced her to have sex with him. The alleged attack occurred last week after the woman was released from the Carmichael Road Detention Centre into the custody of the officer, according to a report in the Jamaican national daily, The Gleaner.

The woman claimed the immigration official took her to his home and raped her several times before letting her go the next day, the newspaper reported.

This new allegation comes on the heels of a litany of abuse complaints reported in The Tribune. The claims surfaced after this administration implemented its new immigration policy on November 1.

The rape allegation was published on Saturday and, within hours, the government issued a statement saying that the matter was under investigation, adding that the official in question was been placed on leave pending the outcome.

According to officials, the immigration officer was questioned by police on the matter last Tuesday or Wednesday. However the rape allegation was not included in police crime reports last week.

As with similar allegations of abuse or neglect at the hands of immigration officials, the minister responsible was quiet on the reports until they were published in the media, giving the impression that there is something to hide.

Mr Mitchell has said all allegations of abuse will be investigated but appears ruffled and personally offended whenever someone questions him over the claims or calls for more public disclosure.

He wants us, it seems, to have blind faith in this administration and trust that it and its different branches of government will do the right thing, as if they are not operated by humans who are flawed.

While most Bahamians would agree that the country needs to do all it can to police its borders and clamp down on illegal migration, the allegations of abuse leaves us uneasy.

However it seems that anyone who criticises this administration’s handling of the issue is deemed unpatriotic and a sympathiser of illegal immigrants.

This should not be the case.

The authorities should investigate these allegations and treat them seriously when they appear, not just assume that everyone making a claim is some nefarious illegal immigrant willing to say anything to damage this country’s reputation and avoid deportation.

Former Minister of State for Immigration Branville McCartney supports an immigration crackdown but agrees that complaints of abuse need to be properly probed and when found responsible, the bad apples in the system need to be punished appropriately.

“Because of the immigration policy there will be persons who may take advantage of that by claiming they may have been abused when it may not be the case,” he said. “That gives us more reasons to be more accountable, transparent and open - that is what a good government would do, especially with a sensitive topic.

“There have been allegations of mistreatment and abuse but that does not mean it’s the case but because the world is watching and because it can have a detrimental effect on our country we need to face these allegations head on. And if they are true, let the chips fall where they may, if not that ought to be exposed and criminal charges brought for false reporting.”

However the former Bamboo Town MP has little faith in public disclosure on the issue from this administration. He is particularly put off by the attitude of the foreign affairs minster, who takes umbrage when questioned.

“We know for the past two years that this is not a transparent government. That is why we are catching holy hell from the international community. Mr Mitchell is the kind of person who doesn’t wish for anybody to speak. He acts like (the government) has a right to do what they want and they know it all. When I did the same thing (as this immigration policy), this minister said in the House of Assembly that I was grandstanding. This policy isn’t new, this policy was there when I was there, it was blocked, it was not carried out, it’s one of the reasons why I (left Cabinet). But you can’t talk to him, he gets vex ... but he’d better get used to it. At the end of the day he is the chief diplomat of our country.”

Not everyone thinks that the immigration debacle will undermine this country’s reputation internationally.

Former PLP Cabinet minister George Smith told The Tribune that every sovereign country has a right to protect its borders as he affirmed his support for the new policy.He added that the allegations of abuse may be overblown, stressing that immigration is an emotive issue.

“Those things (allegations of abuse) are bound to come up and usually they are blown out of proportion. But I do believe that if our officers mistreat people beyond areas that are justifiably necessary they will be dealt with.

“The law of the land makes provisions for it. But it has to be proven, but it cannot not just be used to try and besmirch the reputation of people doing their job,” he said.

Email comments to tmthompson@tribunemedia.net

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