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Refugees Are Let Down By Legal Failure

The Detention Centre at Carmichael Road.

The Detention Centre at Carmichael Road.

By AVA TURNQUEST

Tribune Chief Reporter

aturnquest@tribunemedia.net

FOR more than two decades, the Bahamas has not met its obligations as a signatory to a United Nations treaty on the rights of refugees, according to a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative.

UNHCR Assistant Protection Officer Deneisha Moss Balboni told The Tribune yesterday that while the commission has observed positive developments, there were still gaps in meeting member state obligations due to the absence of any domestic legal framework.

She acknowledged the long-term detention of refugees at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre as an example of those “gaps”.

“In the absence of domestic legislation, just some form of formalised procedures that would guide in how persons are identified, how they are screened and how they are admitted into a process and so on. That’s on one end of the spectrum, but if you look at the people who are admitted into a process and have access to UNHCR, there are still ongoing gaps because there are no guarantees under Bahamian law for people who are recognised as refugees.

“So things that are protections that are provided for in the refugee convention that people don’t have access to, for example the right to be issued ID documents and whatever necessary residence permit to facilitate a refugee’s continued stay in a country of asylum, or a right to gainful employment so they could become self-sufficient or the right to access basic healthcare and education.

“The fact that you don’t also have those things enshrined in law means that there are difficulties ensuring that those rights are actually respected because there is no legal basis in which to do so.”

Four refugees were released from the CRDC last month, more than two years after they received the refugee status.

Eight additional migrants were released from the facility earlier this month, including a Kenyan man who had been held for six years without charge.

It was confirmed that among those migrants were several persons of concern to the UNHCR, which is a programme mandated to protect and support asylum seekers, refugees and stateliness persons.

Ms Moss Balboni said: “Once you’re granted that (refugee) status your freedom of movement should be reinstated, but again there is no legal framework. So without a legal framework that recognises who is a refugee, what their individual rights are that comes from the refugee convention, those are the gaps or outcomes of not having legislation in place.”

The Bahamas acceded to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, and its 1967 Protocol, in 1993.

“Although the Bahamas has acceded to that treaty in 1993,” Ms Moss Balboni said, “it hasn’t actually established any domestic legal framework to formally recognise or protect the rights of refugees. There isn’t actually any policy or regulatory framework to implement the obligations under the 1951 convention, so in that context in the absence of a legal framework obviously there is a need for guarantees against refoulement to be instituted.”

She continued: “Basically identifying people who may be refugees and giving them access to a refugee status determination procedure is really a fundamental, and is key and necessary before any removal or repatriation takes place.

“I think especially when you look at the volume of irregular migrants that move through the Bahamas, it’s really important. A lot of those people moving through come from known refugee producing countries and what we see as fundamental is the implementation of protection-sensitive screening mechanisms to be in place so that people who need international protection are systematically identified and have access to procedures.”

Ms Balboni Moss maintained that the UNHCR’s local office worked closely with the government, and was pleased that the member state has expressed an intention to address current gaps by instituting formal mechanisms in the absence of legislation.

She pointed to the Migration Task Force, within the Office of the Attorney General, and the Refugee Unit established by the Department of Immigration.

“The UNHCR plays an advisory role and that’s something really positive that we’ve observed with the Bahamas and look forward to helping to continue to develop procedures and eventually legislation on refugee protection. We do have a positive outlook for the future.”

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