By SANCHESKA BROWN
Tribune Staff Reporter
PRELIMINARY investigations into Sunday’s illegal landing of Haitian migrants in Abaco reveal that 11 persons were allegedly thrown overboard during the journey from Haiti to the Bahamas and at least 100 migrants landed safely and evaded capture, according to Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell.
Speaking in the House of Assembly, Mr Mitchell said Royal Bahamas Police Force, Defence Force and Immigration officers apprehended a little more than 50 migrants in southern Abaco between Sunday and Monday, but nearly 100 more are suspected to be hiding in bushes in Sandy Point. He said Abaco “seems to be the island of choice” for illegal immigrants seeking to come into the country.
“Overnight there was a landing in Sandy Point, Abaco, which appears to now become the landing spot of choice for migrants because it appears they are able to melt into the population,” Mr Mitchell said.
“So far, at Sandy Point 57 people were captured by Immigration, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force and the Royal Bahamas Police Force and will be brought to Nassau for repatriation. The interviews that they conducted on the people on board suggest that there may have been as many as 150 people on this boat. So the search continues and we believe that people may have gone into the pine forest so they are still trying to find them. I believe another 26 was caught wandering in the bush. What is frightening is they said that they believe 11 people were thrown overboard on the way to the Bahamas and that is serious. Because if that is the case then it becomes more than just human smuggling.”
Mr Mitchell said if the Bahamas does not get a handle on the immigration problem it can have serious repercussions for the country. He encouraged all Bahamians to join the fight against illegal immigration.
“We need everyone to gather behind all the objectives we have in regard to immigration policy. It will require discipline by all Bahamians. We need Bahamians to abide by the law and resist temptations to say ‘release mine and catch everyone else’s’ because immigration issues threaten to undermine the integrity of the Bahamas and I am using this opportunity to join this fight.”
According to a press release from the RBDF, 24 migrants – 22 males and two females – were found after a blue and white motor vessel landed in the Hole in the Wall area at the southern end of Abaco on Sunday.
RBDF officers stationed in Abaco along with Immigration officials and local police were on the ground yesterday searching the immediate area for more migrants.
Yesterday police reported that another 34 illegal Haitian immigrants were apprehended in Abaco on Sunday.
Inspector Terecita Pinder reported that police received information around 2am on Sunday about a group of suspicious persons walking in the area of Ernest Dean Highway.
Last month, Mr Mitchell announced that government will impose new immigration restrictions in a bid to clamp down on illegal migration, particularly from Haiti.
This includes the consideration of a ban on people who have previously entered the Bahamas illegally and have been deported from ever obtaining legal status. As of November, the government will also impose new work permit procedures, the Fox Hill MP said.
He said the government will also mandate, as of November, that all people living in the Bahamas have a passport of their nationality.