By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE United Association of Haitians and Bahamians has publicly denounced the “vicious and unfair” comments of a Florida politician and a Haitian-Bahamian activist whom they said were “misinformed” and could not speak for those at the centre of the government’s new immigration policies.
This comes as, Fred Smith, president of the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association (GBHRA) branded the policies, which came into effect on November 1, as “institutional terrorism” and “ethnic cleansing.”
On the day the changes came into effect, there was a mass round-up of illegal immigrants, mostly Haitian, in New Providence.
Both civic groups made the separate opposing statements yesterday in the aftermath of the call by Daphne Campbell, a Democrat in the Florida House of Representatives, for tourists and international businesses to boycott the country. She said she became upset after seeing videos of children being led away by immigration officers.
Later Jetta Baptiste, president of the Haitian Bahamian Society in the Bahamas, told The Tribune she supported Mrs Campbell’s calls 1,000 per cent because the Haitian community was “simply tired of all the political games that have been played with (them) over the years”.
However, UAHB administrative assistant Robertson Dieudonne, told reporters that the group was greatly concerned about the damaging remarks, adding that neither of the women consulted with the association before making public statements.
He said the controversy has already damaged the perceptions of Haitians living in the United States with some people cancelling travel plans to the country.
The association, which partnered with two other civic associations – Vibes United and Univision - held a press conference at the Victory Chapel on Minnie Street to address the issue. The UAHB said it supported the work of the government in fixing the illegal migration issue.
Mr Dieudonne said: “Neither Mrs Campbell nor Jetta Baptise reside in the Bahamas, and therefore, we do not feel that they have the authority to speak on behalf of Haitians and people of Haitian descent in this country in the tone and manner in which they have spoken.
“While they are free to express their opinions, we wish to make our position clear that we oppose their suggestions that the Bahamas should be boycotted by Americans and other nationalities via its tourism product.
“We understand their passion for our Haitian brothers and sisters and would have supported them if we felt Mrs Campbell’s accusations were accurate and fair.
“In this case, however, we do not believe that they were properly informed and therefore, their comments were both inflammatory and unfounded. Further, we do not see the wisdom in an international boycott of the Bahamas – there is too much at stake, even for Haitians in the country.
“Here is one example, I have a group of 13 including family members, more than 80 per cent which were born here in the Bahamas who have cancelled their vacation including my siblings,” he said. “I am trying to change their perception coming to the Bahamas as they do annually from the US.”
The group has made recommendations to the government about revising the new policies that includes extending the time frame to six months for Haitians to acquire their passports and other documentation.
Meanwhile, Mr Smith in a press statement said the mass round-up policy is unconstitutional and a flagrant violation of the fundamental concept that individuals are innocent until proven guilty.
Mr Smith said: “It can only be described as institutional terrorism, if by that term we mean an inhuman and degrading policy designed to strike fear in the hearts of an entire community. They are breeding ‘Haitian hatred’, racism and discrimination. It seems the Bahamas is now into ethnic cleansing.
“The GBHRA has nothing against immigration officers detaining those they have good reason to believe are in the country illegally, and subjecting them to the process outlined in the constitution for anyone suspected of breaking the law.
“However, this draconian business of wholesale round-ups, indiscriminately casting a net over entire sections of the population – both innocent and guilty alike – and then sorting illegal immigrant from lawful resident after the fact, is downright criminal.
“Sadly, rather than applying the law properly on a case-by-case basis, this new policy of home invasions, of totally illegal road blocks and checkpoints, seems designed to create ‘shock and awe’, to send an intimidating message to the Haitian-Bahamian community. And it’s working – some have abandoned their homes and even their children.”
Mr Smith added that there were countless innocent people caught in the raids who have been subjected to lengthy detention periods in hostile, unsanitary conditions and the loss of thousands of dollars saved in bank accounts.
Meanwhile the UAHB said it will continue to work with the government to reach a compromise on immigration policy reform.