By Malcolm Strachan
LESS than two weeks away from the December 31 deadline placed on undocumented immigrants to either become regularised or leave the country, and all Bahamians are watching to see if the Minnis administration is ready to put their money where their mouth is.
This is almost like betting on the underdog at the race track, except the stakes in this regard are way higher.
Citizens of this country are no strangers to the politicising of our national issues. It is perhaps nowhere more vexing than when it comes to immigration. Consequently, the critics will undoubtedly be ready to crucify the government if they do not follow through with their tough talk.
With recent Haitian sloops landing illegally smuggling anywhere from 300-400 Haitian migrants into the country – might we add both in very close proximity to the RBDF base at Coral Harbour - the pressure could not be any higher for an administration still trying to secure its footing in government.
The prime minister must know that with every hand that ticks around the clock, the populace is eager to see how he handles this. At this time, no one really knows what to expect once the December 31 deadline comes and goes. One thing is for certain - there will probably be no illegal migrants leaving of their own volition. After paying thousands of dollars and taking a death-defying journey to escape what was most likely a life of poverty in Haiti, the undocumented migrants living in the country are not going to leave willingly.
This leaves the question – how far is the government prepared to go in its efforts to rid the country of illegals? We are talking about potentially tens of thousands of desperate people here – people who have shown every indication they are prepared to risk their lives in a hopeful search of a better one. Meanwhile, we can’t even stick together long enough to tackle an issue that we should all be able to agree has a broadly negative effect on Bahamian life.
On one hand, there is the Opposition Leader, Philip ‘Brave’ Davis, obviously suffering from a case of amnesia again, insisting the current government has to get a handle on illegal immigration. However, we wonder where was this zeal when he was the nation’s number two and we had the same long-standing immigration issues? Unless the rest of us are delusional, for the majority of his career in public life, illegal immigration has always been an issue. Yet, he still seeks to absolve his party at every opportunity and make it a partisan issue.
It is this same kind of mischief that causes us to stumble as a country. At a time when solutions should be offered by those who are supposed to be the nation’s greatest political minds, we are instead subjected to a juvenile game of tit-for-tat.
While the Progressive Liberal Party may want to lay the foundation for an election run in 2022, the nation would benefit much greater as a whole if they were to lend strategic expertise for the best way forward in dealing with this mammoth task.
Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be interested in anything of the sort.
It’s along those lines that former Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell’s attempt to blame the current Minister of Transport and Local Government for the recent landings of Haitian sloops was equally baseless and severely lacking in character.
Truthfully, we have come to appreciate these types of statements are typical of Fred Mitchell. But as easy as it is to get caught up in the political mudslinging, we must all stay focused.
When the prime minister makes his national address to begin the new year, we expect him to give us insight into the government’s plans. More than trying to make the headlines with announcements that barely scratch the surface, the Bahamian people require the government to introduce more detailed strategies into the national discourse. While the economy, crime, rebuilding Ragged Island, revitalising Freeport, anti-corruption – to name a few - will all be hot button items immigration may top the list as the timing of it falls in line with his October announcement.
Bahamian citizens are going to be looking beyond press releases filled with statistics of the number of illegal migrants apprehended and deported. We have entered an era to which we don’t believe what a government says without seeing they are following some sort of plan. Further, we do not just want to see stop-gap measures. We want to know the 5 Ws and H of the government’s plans for the country.
While there was some explanation to why the two Haitian sloops were able to traverse through our waters and offload hundreds of illegals mere miles off the western end of New Providence undetected, we are still concerned with the fact there is possibly some Bahamian assistance.
Immigration is not solely a matter of protecting the waters. It requires the intelligence of our security arm to investigate and neutralise the system which allows the flow of illegal migrants to continue to exist and thrive as somewhat of an industry in the “dark economy”.
Moreover, it requires diplomatic heads between The Bahamas and Haiti to meet and agree on the way forward. We cannot continue to operate as a haven for Haitian migrants to achieve the Bahamian dream, meanwhile the standard of living for Bahamians continues to deteriorate.
While we may sympathise with the plight of Haitians, we are not prepared to continue being so sympathetic to the detriment of our livelihoods any longer. It is simply a burden we cannot afford to take on.
If this issue remains unimpeded and tensions continue to rise, we don’t know what we could be facing going forward. People living in this country have become much more aggressive and angry as life has become harder for the average and poor Bahamian.
It is no mystery. We see how little a life is valued on our streets. And while many may point fingers at the influx of Haitians that would have come into the country over the years as the sole reason for the violence, we also offer that it is the increased difficulties on Bahamian life that may also be an equal contributor.
What we have here is a powder keg just waiting to explode.
Undoubtedly, we can rest assured the humility and mild manners that existed within illegal migrants circa 1990 is long gone. Their numbers have increased, as well as their aggression and disdain toward Bahamians whom they see as being insensitive to their hardship.
If you recall, it was just a few years ago when the infamous threat from a Haitian man was made towards all Bahamians, letting us know not to underestimate them.
And we certainly should not because a desperate man can make for a dangerous one.
While we do not expect the tensions that exist between Haitians and Bahamians to result in ethnic violence any time soon, it is possibility we cannot ignore if successive governments continue to stall on the issue.
We must not be so idealistic in thinking the worst could never happen. Because it can, and history has taught us this many times.
However, we pray that this time we will get it right.