By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
HAITIAN Foreign Affairs Minister Duly Brutus yesterday said bilateral meetings with the Bahamas government over its new immigration policy is a top priority as Haiti does not have the capacity to meet regularisation demands.
Mr Brutus called for the Bahamas government to meet the International Organisation for Migration and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees over the new regulations, adding that the primary concern was the treatment of children born in the Bahamas to Haitian parents.
He said he expects to send a delegation to the country this week after he was unable to meet with Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell on the sidelines of the Japan-CARICOM ministerial meetings in Tokyo.
He also underscored Haiti’s respect for the Bahamas government’s sovereign right to enforce immigration policy, and cautioned detractors against using excessive language that may create difficulties for persons of Haitian descent living in the country.
“We do not have the service now for the Bahamas,” he said, responding to questions about the government’s readiness to process the increased demand for Haitian passports. “We did it for the Dominican Republic, probably we will be forced to do the same with the Bahamas. That’s why we need to go (to the Bahamas) very fast.”
Mr Brutus said: “I wanted to sit with Minister Mitchell, but he is not here. I will try to go to the Bahamas, I want to be clear we want to have a lot of respect for Bahamas sovereignty.”
Mr Brutus spoke to The Tribune on his final day in Japan, where ministerial-level meetings were held between the Japanese government and CARICOM member states. He explained that his trip to the Bahamas was delayed because the conference, and independent bilateral meetings with the Japanese government, were very important for Haiti.
He added that if he is unable to travel to the Bahamas, a team will be led by Minister of Haitians Living Abroad, François Guillaume II.
“It is normal if the Bahamas government wants to take some measures regarding immigration in their country,” he said. “Our concern is about the treatment made to children, we know they have a lot of children born in the Bahamas and they do not know Haiti.”
Mr Brutus said: “That is why our position is very simple. We wish this (Bahamas) government to try to talk to the International Organisation for Migration and also talk to UNHCR commissary for refugee, to see how they can have a policy more open for children, that is the position of the Haitian government.”
Several new immigration policies were implemented on November 1, however, the mandate that everyone living in the Bahamas must have a passport of their nationality has proved to be the most contentious.
The measures were announced in the House of Assembly on September 17 by Mr Mitchell.
Certificates of identity issued to people born to foreign parents legally residing in the Bahamas will not be renewed; instead a passport of their nationality with a resident stamp will be required.
While the Bahamas government has maintained that the new policy is non-discriminatory, human rights groups have severely criticised the move as it directly impacts the largely undocumented community of Haitian migrants – many of whom were born in the Bahamas.
Photos of Immigration officials apprehending children, who were reportedly left unsupervised by their parents, during a raid on November 1 has led to calls for international boycotts.
Haitian President Michel Martelly, Minister of Interior Reginald Delva and Mr Guillaume were briefed on local concerns by Haitian Ambassador to the Bahamas Antonio Rodrigue last week, according to Mr Brutus, who explained that he was confident a common solution could be met to deal with concerns given the working relationship between the two countries.
He said that his administration did not have a solution for how best to deal with undocumented persons born in the Bahamas of Haitian descent, adding that more information was needed before he could outline specific goals for bilateral discussions.
Mr Brutus said the illegal migration of Haitian nationals remained a top concern, as the phenomenon continues to increase despite the Haitian government’s efforts to inform citizens that the move was a “big mistake”.
He pointed to an earlier visit to the Bahamas by president Martelly, who then suggested that financing for illegal Haitian immigration should be redirected towards creating sustainable trade opportunities for economic development in north Haiti.