The sloop that landed near Clifton Pier earlier this month.
By SANCHESKA DORSETT
Tribune Staff Reporter
IMMIGRATION officials have received information that five Haitian sloops “are on the way” to the Bahamas, according to Kirklyn Neely, head of the Immigration Department’s Enforcement Unit.
In an interview with The Tribune, Mr Neely said after questioning several people, including the captain of the boat of migrants that landed near Clifton Pier last week, officials have “reliable information” that five more boats left Haiti last week bound for The Bahamas.
He also expressed concern that the captain of the most recent boat that landed in the capital has been deported “at least three times and keeps coming back.”
“We got information that these boats are all leaving from Haiti to come here,” Mr Neely said.
“They left en route to the Bahamas last week is the information we received, so all eyes are now on the lookout. We don’t know how big the boats are or how many persons were on board so that is why it is important to catch them out to sea.”
Last week, Mr Neely said officials are bracing themselves for an “influx of illegals,” as the holiday season “usually sees about three to four” Haitian sloops illegally land throughout the islands.
His comments came moments after a boat “loaded” with Haitian migrants landed near Clifton Pier last Monday about three miles from Coral Harbour.
It was the second time in a month an illegal sloop landed near the Royal Bahamas Defence Force’s (RBDF) Coral Harbour Base.
Immigration officers and other authorities spent the week combing the area for the migrants. The RBDF said 57 people - 43 men, 11 women and three children - were taken into custody and transported to the Carmichael Road Detention Centre.
Since then Mr Neely said they have picked up more migrants suspected to have been on board that boat, however he said, “no one is admitting anything.”
“We have picked up a lot of persons and as a matter of fact we are sending 114 back to Haiti on Tuesday. We got people with no documents that we believe came on that boat but they are not admitting to it. We also got the captain. He has been here at least three times but he is not prepared to write a statement saying anything and we can’t take them to court. There is something wrong with that.”
In November, a large empty sloop was discovered on the shoreline of Adelaide Beach. Despite extensive searches, immigration officials said no one from that boat was captured.
At the time, Immigration Director William Pratt said he “had no idea” how such a large sloop could land so close to the Royal Bahamas Defence Force’s base and go undetected, but suggested the RBDF should perhaps “improve their surveillance.”
Authorities believe the immigrants who landed at the time had help from people already on New Providence and warned anyone who was found to be hiding them would be jailed, fined or both.
Last month, Mr Neely estimated between 150 to 250 undocumented migrants were on board the sloop.
The hunt for the migrants began on November 12 when the RBDF said it was investigating reports of a wooden Haitian sloop landing in the southwest area of New Providence.
Last month, Minister of National Security Marvin Dames said the Bahamas is an archipelago of over 700 islands and cays, adding it is not possible to identify every vessel that comes through its borders.
“I can tell you from personal experience I’ve had many trips when I was in the police force running operations, you can go out for hours and not see anything, land, boats, or anything else. For someone to think that every vessel that comes through here should be identified, that’s not humanly possible,” Mr Dames said at the time.