By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
IMMIGRATION Minister Fred Mitchell called on the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association to explain why it is attempting to “defame” this country’s name through “irresponsible” efforts that undermine the government’s ability to clamp down on illegal immigration.
Mr Mitchell’s statement came days after the GBHRA and others testified before an Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) hearing in Washington, DC, outlining alleged human rights abuses brought on by the government’s immigration policies.
The minister’s reaction was a far cry from the tone the GBHRA struck in a statement yesterday, which thanked the government for participating in the hearing and for “sharing the view” that the Immigration Bill, currently before Parliament, should be reviewed.
“These people who went to Washington – Bahamians – making these exaggerated claims about abuse of migrants to this country must answer the question to the Bahamian public,” he said at a press conference yesterday. “What they are doing will aid and comfort people who are trying to sabotage this country through a criminal enterprise. They have to answer that question. Their actions are irresponsible.”
He added: “You can disagree with policy. There are domestic remedies for people to take if you have a difficulty with the policy. If there are specific abuses, there are domestic remedies but to actually go and defame the country in another country, I want to describe that as a particular thing, but I’ll just stay my hand for the moment. But they do have to account to the Bahamian public for their conduct, knowing what we know.”
Mr Mitchell also stressed that illegal immigration is part of a highly organised criminal scheme meant to overwhelm the country with undocumented persons.
“In the face of exercises going on with the Royal Bahamas Police Force and Royal Bahamas Defence Force and immigration officers in Abaco, people have the temerity to be smuggling people into Abaco in the face of that,” he said.
“So obviously these are some people who are determined to breach the law, who are determined to invade this country at any cost. It is a story which has to be told to the public, the seriousness of the nature of this and that it is a matter we need to get on top of. It calls for all hands on deck.
“Whoever the people are that are driving this, their calculation is by overwhelming us with numbers, they can sabotage any effort to stop this. This is a criminal enterprise, which is designed to get money and we are interrupting this enterprise . . .”
State Minister for Legal Affairs Damian Gomez, who represented the Bahamas during last Friday’s hearing, noted that the IAHRC has accepted the government’s invitation to conduct an on-site visit to the Carmichael Road Detention Centre.
“The ICHAR court does not have the ability or jurisdiction to levy sanctions against us at this stage,” he added. “We have invited them to do an onsite visit. They have indicated a willingness to accept that invitation and act on it and the ball is within their court with respect to indicating to us when they wish to come. They’ve also given us some questions at the hearing which will be answered in the course of things within the next fortnight or so, though we have no deadline within which to answer them.”
The four-member IACHR panel of human rights experts sought answers on matters concerning raids, deportations and the related due process; overcrowding at the detention facility; access to the facility for consular support, legal aid, and human rights monitoring; allegations of physical and verbal abuse; identification of non-nationals by officials; the detention of migrant children; and the issue of statelessness.
Over the weekend, the GBHRA said it hoped Friday’s hearing would foster closer working ties with human rights groups and the government.
“The hearings before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) convened at the request of the GBHRA and its international partners, we hope will serve as an opportunity for government and human rights defenders to work together closely on reforming current immigration policy and law, specifically the proposed amendments to the Immigration Act, currently before the Senate,” the GBHRA’s statement said.