By SANCHESKA BROWN
Tribune Staff Reporter
MEMBERS of the Haitian community in Abaco which was ravaged by fire on New Year’s Eve met last night to discuss the way forward.
According to sources on the ground, more than 100 Haitians, Bahamians and Jamaicans met at a local church to decide whether or not they will “take government assistance.”
Since the fire, which destroyed more than 80 homes and left more than 300 people homeless, NEMA officials say no one has accepted the shelter provided by the government or the food parcels that were donated.
NEMA Director, Captain Stephen Russell, said they cannot force the victims to accept help if they don’t want it.
He said: “NEMA, as well as Social Services, made provisions for them. When the fire initially happened 234 people signed up for assistance. We made provisions for temporary shelter but no one has showed up and we can’t force them.
“Grand Bahama donated 1500 food parcels and no one came to get them. I think there is a degree of fear that if they go to the shelter they will be caught by immigration.”
Despite assurances that there will be no deportations in the densely populated immigrant settlement, Member of Parliament for North Abaco, Renardo Curry, also said victims were reluctant to come forward due to fears over legal status.
Preliminary directives are to secure the property to prevent reconstruction on the site, according to Mr Curry, who said the government’s focus was prevention.
“Moving forward we are focused on prevention,” he said.
“How do we prevent something like this happening again? The government is spending mass amounts of revenue dealing with issues like this, to assist persons in those areas, and that can be prevented.
“From our own personal investigations, there are great environmental concerns that need to be addressed immediately. The thrust in New Providence on shanty towns, it’s going to be extended to the Family Islands as well.”
A mother and her son died in the blaze that started in the Pigeon Pea area in Marsh Harbour around 9pm last Tuesday.
According to sources in Abaco, because of the proximity of the homes in Pigeon Pea, firefighters had to fight the fire from the outside.
It took them nearly six hours to extinguish the blaze.
Investigations continue into the cause of the blaze.