By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
PEOPLE born in the Bahamas of Haitian descent are Bahamians and should have citizenship, according to Central and South Abaco MP Edison Key.
In an interview with The Tribune, Mr Key slammed successive governments for failing to address the long-standing immigration issue that has led to the marginalisation of a large group of people as “scapegoats of labour”.
He called on the government to move quickly and humanely to address the growing problem that he feels will soon become unmanageable.
Mr Key said: “These people, particularly the people that live in the Mud and Pigeon Peas, that’s my constituency. These are people that have children born there now who are doctors, lawyers, defense force officers, police, nurses.”
“They make a contribution and I blame all the governments for the situation they have to live in. They are human just like me and you and everybody else.
“There should be a more humane approach,” he said, “you’re born in a country, you don’t have no passport, and when you’re 18 you can only apply and they don’t have to give you any consideration for citizenship. But yet you are Bahamian if you look at it by your birth certificate.”
Earlier this year, an official from the Haitian Embassy urged the government to address practices regarding the process of regularising persons of Haitian descent.
Wallenson Nobert, first secretary of Legal Affairs at the Haitian Embassy, said the “real problem” faced by the Haitian-Bahamian community in the Bahamas stems from the absence of a clear legal framework to process migrants.
In response to a panel discussion hosted by the College of the Bahamas on the complex issue of statelessness within the Bahamian context, Mr Nobert said the use of the term “stateless” to describe unregularised persons of Haitian descent was “inappropriate” given Haiti’s citizenship laws.
Instead, he said, there was an inherent “hypocrisy” in the Bahamas’ handling of citizenship that allowed for a peculiar stratification of rights, adding “either you’re a part of a country, or you’re not”.
Outside the House of Assembly on Wednesday, Mr Key said: “I think the government should look at these people and sort this situation out. Let’s say it’s 60,000 foreign women in this country in this same situation and they each have five children – that’s 300,000 people. One day, it’s going to catch up with us. We need to deal with this situation now and don’t let it get any further.”
Mr Key referred to the recent spate of fires that have negatively affected shanty town populations in Abaco.
Last year, a mother and her year-old son were killed in a fire in the Pigeon Pea area in Marsh Harbour. More than 80 homes were burned to the ground on that occasion, leaving more than 500 people homeless.
Following the December 31 fire, Deputy Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis told Abaco residents the government would do all that it could to ensure a situation like that did not happen again, adding that members of such communities must make certain their homes are up to standard.
Last month in another shanty town on the island, more than 70 homes were wiped out in a blaze that consumed the Sand Banks area, and which police believe was arson.
Mr Key said consideration should also be given to regularise the parents of Bahamas-born children, who have worked in the country for more than 40 years.
When asked whether or not he had a solution to the issue, Mr Key said: “I don’t really know, but I know if I was in charge of the country or Immigration I would sort this out, especially with the children, but not only that, the parents. Some of them have been here 40, 50 years.
He added: “They’ve worked hard, they’ve helped to build every building, every house, every road. Why are we using these people that have made such a contribution and then at the end of the day say we don’t need you.”
According to Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell, senior Bahamian and Haitian government officials are in bilateral talks this week covering trade, technical co-operation and illegal migration. Negotiations in Nassau were said to have been fruitful in advancing the draft texts to be signed this summer.