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Smith: Suspend Abaco Plan And Clear Backlog

Attorney Fred Smith, QC

Attorney Fred Smith, QC

By AVA TURNQUEST

Tribune Chief Reporter

aturnquest@tribunemedia.net

GRAND Bahama Human Rights Association (GBHRA) president Fred Smith yesterday urged immigration officials to temporarily suspend large-scale operations planned for Abaco until the backlog of applicants seeking to be regularised can be reduced.

Mr Smith claimed that Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell’s focus was centred on discrediting his organisation rather than addressing grave concerns over the welfare of detainees that have caught the attention of international agencies.

Acknowledging public calls to “tone down” his rhetoric, Mr Smith explained that he was prepared to soften his approach – if there was also an easing of “military-style invasion operations”.

“Instead of ranting and raving against me,” Mr Smith said, “why didn’t Fred Mitchell respond when he had the opportunity to the Organisation of American States, before they had to issue these precautionary measures? When the New York Times reporter was down here conducting interviews, he didn’t give her the time of day.

“This is a simple fix: stop the abuse at home and we will stop the criticism abroad. We love The Bahamas as much as Mr Mitchell does, but we also need to reach out to whoever will help us protect human rights at home.

“We urge Minister Mitchell to focus his resources on dealing with the thousands and thousands of applications at the Immigration Department. Spend the money fixing the problem internally, stop corruption in the Immigration department, stop grandstanding with threats to Abaco and other communities.”

Mr Smith was reacting to comments made by Mr Mitchell in the House of Assembly this week. Mr Mitchell had vowed that the government will use every resource to fight any smear campaign against the country.

He said the continued criticism from the GBHRA lacked credibility and painted the country in a negative light.

Mr Mitchell added that the heads of all law enforcement agencies in The Bahamas were meeting to discuss strategies to tackle illegal migration in Abaco, and decide on timing and logistics for a widespread operation.

“We urge Mr Mitchell to pause and stop threatening communities in the Out Islands as he is doing in Abaco,” Mr Smith said yesterday.

“He has already said that the Immigration department has exhausted their repatriation budget so there is no more funding for repatriations.

“He is aware that the detention centre was built for 100 people and now has over 500 to 700 people that are still being processed and/or proposed for deportation, and he is aware also that the conditions at the centre are unsanitary, overcrowded and in fact the subject of international scrutiny.”

Last week, the OAS’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ (IACHR) issued precautionary measures for immediate action to ensure the life and physical integrity of persons held in immigration detention at the Carmichael Road facility. Citing numerous risks due to alleged inhumane conditions of their detention, the measures were issued on February 13 after analysing “factual and legal” arguments submitted in applications from three international human rights groups.

The IACHR report indicated that the government had not responded to its request for information sent on January 15 to date.

In the government’s response to the IACHR’s report – which it labelled “overstated and inaccurate” – it was revealed that a report commissioned by a panel headed by a former Justice of The Bahamas Court of Appeal about the conditions at the Detention Centre has been completed, and the government is addressing recommendations within the Immigration Department’s resources.

Yesterday, Mr Smith said: “Many have asked me to tone down my rhetoric to avoid escalating a highly volatile situation, I am prepared to do so, but I also urge the minister to back off and act reasonably.

“There is no need for raids in the Out Islands or exercises which appear to be military-style invasion operations in the Family Islands with combined police, immigration, defence force and customs officers. Nassau is not at war with the Family Islands and that is the image he is conveying. The immigration department throughout The Bahamas can continue to methodically investigate and do its job without this kind of uproar.”

Mr Smith claimed that the GBHRA’s concerns did not exist in a vacuum, adding that the organisation did not seek to destroy the reputation of The Bahamas nationally or internationally.

However, he noted that the country had international obligations through partnerships with agencies such as the World Bank, United Nations or Inter-American Development Bank.

He explained that his organisation’s motives were no different from Mr Mitchell’s when he protested against the government as an activist in his early political years.

Mr Smith added that Mr Mitchell’s actions have set the country on a course to repeat history, referring to the GBHRA’s first trip to the OAS to protest immigration practices under former minister Loftus Roker.

Comments

DonAnthony 4 years, 12 months ago

Mr. Mitchell is not serious about intelligently and responsibly dealing with our illegal immigration problem. He is serious about duping the Bahamian public! If he wants to fix this problem he would find the funds to repatriate and empty a detention centre that is already suffering from massive overcrowding, where alleged human rights abuses have been taking place. Instead for weeks he has sending out press releases about an exercise in Abaco. It is merely a photo op, and political lip service duping a desperate Bahamas for real results. We deserve so much better. Repatriate those we have already detained, speed up the regularization of those worthy of it, then do the exercise in Abaco.

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ispeakthetruth 4 years, 12 months ago

Mr. Smith should keep talking. He is only hurting his credibility among non Haitian, and rational thinking, Bahamians. The immigration department should proceed with whatever plans are in place even if it adds to the backlog, and to the number of detainees at the center. We have suspended plans for decades and now that has caught up with us. But this is clearly what Mr. Smith wants as it buys him more time to build his party, and become the eventual leader of the new Haiti, his plans for the Bahamas. His request should not be considered because it is not in the best interest of the country.

Also, how does he know that the NY Times reporter was not given the time of day? Or did he make this up? Nowhere did she say her attempts at reaching the department were ignored, but miraculously she was able to reach them on a Sunday, and partially retract her article. More likely, she reached out after the fact. Also, the OAS already had their conclusions based on prior reports. Anything the government had to add would not have made any difference. All the government can do is make improvements based on what they deem vital, and affordable for our developing nation. And clearly the government was already in process of doing that, kids were not at the facility for months prior to the report. And publicly, the department disputed the pregnant woman's claims. The fact that these were still included in the report, says a lot about this organization.

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asiseeit 4 years, 12 months ago

Do not worry, no illegals will be caught in the Abaco exercise. They know when and where immigration will conduct the exercise and are ready. Smoke and mirrors, it sounds good but in reality is just bravado to fake out Bahamians that are gullible.

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ispeakthetruth 4 years, 12 months ago

Asiseeit - I sometimes feel the same way...but I am daring to dream until it becomes clear. I don't understand the publicized warnings, but I will wait and see what comes of it.

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asiseeit 4 years, 12 months ago

Speak, if you want to dream, how about dreaming that we have some REAL leadership in this country that works for ALL Bahamians. Lets start with that and maybe weeding out the corrupt Bahamians out there. I know that we may not have any Bahamians left if we get rid of the corrupt but as you say, dare to dream.

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ispeakthetruth 4 years, 12 months ago

I also dream of weeding out corruption, and real leadership. However, I am hopeful that this is the start of it, that results in a domino effect within other ministries. If this department can act on the will of the people and not self serving interests...it's a start ! It gives me hope. Meanwhile, I will continue to dream of a Bahamian government that is pro-Bahamian.

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Stapedius 4 years, 12 months ago

Now there are few things left unaddressed which shows that immigration reform appears to be a very personal issue rather than a national one for Mr.Smith. First, the immigration department under the FNM carried out raids. Where was your voice then? Second, how could a man appointed QC in this country want to tear it down and actively threaten international pressure? It seems to be that a QC in this country should want to keep fighting for his cause but would do nothing to impune or damage the image of this country. Third, why do you behave as if it is just Mr. Mitchell you are having some personal war with? Many Bahamians are fed up with illegal immigration, even the official opposition have not seen these so called abuses of which you speak. So why are you the only person receiving these reports? I'm just tired of hearing the nonsense and being made to feel as if we are wrong for enforcing immigration laws. You speak of Haitian rights but I've not heard you once defend the Bahamas against false allegations. Its one thing to say the government is doing something wrong but you never seem to want to set the record straight. It is always this constant threat of trying to internationally embarrass the country. Never any concern for who you say are your own people. The New York Times or any other international report can say anything and you have not objective critique. You stay silent, not willing to admit that these reports are not entirely accurate. With such disdain for the Bahamian people and government why are you even a QC? You surely appear to represent the interests of others rather than the best interests of this country.

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TheMadHatter 4 years, 12 months ago

Corrrect. And if he is interested in Human Rights why hasn't he been making noise about her majesty's prison for years?

Also if things are so bad at the detention center - how come the boats keep coming? I'm sure news travels south.

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Emac 4 years, 12 months ago

DonAnthony is correct when he says that If Fred wants to fix this problem he would find the funds to repatriate and empty a detention centre that is already suffering from massive overcrowding. The nagging question I have about this whole dilemma is why isn't this exercise being supported by the entire government? Why does it seem as if Fred is a lone voice in the wilderness on this one? Why is the opposition so quiet when outside organizations have been attaching the Bahamas' character? Could it be that the FNM won't say anything because in a way they are glad to see the crap that has been going on and they really feel that by being silent it increases their chances of being popular with the Haitian society?

This is why I have always commented Bran for what he did when he was junior minister in charge of immigration. Many people don't know this, but he literally fired or moved a lot of crooked immigration officials. In addition, he was prepared to tackle this Pigeon Plum slum community and all the other Haitians slums in the Bahamas. But Symonette and Ingraham had a lot to do with stopping him. it goes to show that one minister cannot alleviate this immigration problem alone. We need all right-thinking Bahamians onboard, including PLPs, FNMs and DNAs. Don't forget that together we can tackle any problem. But when we are divided nothing is accomplished.

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Cas0072 4 years, 12 months ago

In the spirit of negotiations, how about he tell Haitians to abandon their illegal trek to The Bahamas so that we can deal with the backlog?

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DEDDIE 4 years, 12 months ago

Not to belittle the point, it is still dumb to send Haitians back home today when they will be back tomorrow. A strong Defence Force presence around Inagua and a few paid informants in Northern Haiti will go a long way to alleviate the problem. Patch the hole before you add more water.

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birdiestrachan 4 years, 12 months ago

Has Fred Smith ever appealed to the illegal immigrants in the Bahamas to return to their home Country, why are they waiting to be picked up by immigration and then complain. about every thing under the sun. Mr. Smith seems to be encouraging the illegals to break the laws of the Bahamas.

Now we know he has plans to start a Haitian political party, The next thing we may hear from him is he wants to start a Haitian Army in the Bahamas.

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SP 4 years, 12 months ago

................................................... Don't Suspend ANYTHING ..............................................

Get the illegal Haitians out before we have MORE Fred Smiths being a pain in the ass.

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SP 4 years, 12 months ago

................................................ We Will NEVER Forget ..................................................

More importantly, Fred Smith obviously agreed with his Haitian brethren show of conquest of the Bahamas as they dragged the Bahamian flag behind their cars while flying the Haitian flag during Haitian day for years!

1000's of intentionally placed paper Haitian Bahamians minded like this Fred Smith clown for decades have systematically compromised Bahamas civil service, immigration, police, customs, education and health care systems specifically with the intent of facilitating illegal Haitians.

To protect our country for future generations of Bahamians from the likes of the Fred Smiths, coming Chinese invasion and WTO, we must DEMAND OUR RIGHT TO CHANGE the Constitution to adapt Bermudas' citizenship laws which prevents "paper citizens" from voting or ever running for political office.

If we do not......We will quickly become outnumbered by foreign groups who will eventually form their own political parties under the present constitution and vote Bahamians out of governance of our own country.......Just as Fred Smith is now advocating.

This is no joke.........Review Bermudas' citizen law link below....and DEMAND CHANGE!

http://www.bermuda-online.org/citizen...">http://www.bermuda-online.org/citizen...

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Girly 4 years, 11 months ago

This is a national emergency.People are taking this too lightly.If you look at how they are on the radio spreading their agenda somehow it is slowly making Bahamians to start thinking in their direction.What they want to do is get sympathy then when they get their claws into the government system then this is when they will begin to do away with immigration laws and flood this country with illegal immigrants.Wake up Bahamas we have to start protecting what little identity that we have.This is serious business.

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