By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
FOREIGN Affairs Minister Darren Henfield forecast border security challenges will increase as the United States terminates the temporary status of some 59,000 Haitian refugees over the next two years.
The temporary protected status allowed Haitian refugees to live and work in America following the 2010 earthquake that decimated the country.
Speaking to reporters outside of the Churchill Building yesterday, Mr Henfield also classified Haitian migrants entering the Bahamas illegally as “economic refugees,” saying it was likely the country’s immigration problem would outlive current policymakers.
Mr Henfield said the government was working to organise a mission to Haiti to broker talks on migration challenges, which he thinks should work in tandem with joint economic initiatives.
He advocated a multi-faceted approach with greater collaboration from the Haitian government moving forward; however, he made it clear that he fully supported enforcement of the country’s laws when it came to illegal landings.
“We empathise with Haiti and the conditions in Haiti are still the poorest country in the hemisphere,” he said. “I think people are required to live on less than a $1.23 a day, circumstances are not good but these are the times in which we live in, these are the issues that we face.
“These situations must be looked at objectively when governments consider the circumstances of the case and I think Mr Trump is doing what he thinks is in the best interest of the United States, just as we in the government of the Bahamas are doing what we believe is in the best interest of our country.”
Mr Henfield continued: “We are still grappling with the issue of how do we curtail illegal landings on our border. It’s been going on for more than 50 years now. I suspect personally that more persons displaced in Haiti or moved or returned to Haiti will mean more challenges for us on the border.
“It remains a viable option for them, so it falls upon us to police our borders and to negotiate with the Haitian government as best we can to see how best we can ameliorate the circumstances in the future.”
It was announced by US Homeland Security on Monday that the Trump administration was ending the programme with an eviction deadline of July 2019 or face deportation.
According to the New York Times, the Haitian government asked the Trump administration to extend the protected status.
On Monday, a spokesperson for Canada’s Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen told the CBC that while Canada remains an “open and welcoming country to people seeking refuge,” anyone entering Canada must do so “through the proper channels”.
Yesterday, Mr Henfield said the US government did not advise the Bahamian government that it was taking this step, adding that it was a sovereign issue.
He pointed to the government’s recent December 31 immigration deadline as a similar message to Haitians; however the Minnis administration had previously stressed Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis’ ultimatum was intended for all nationalities here illegally.
Mr Henfield said: “I don’t think they were aware we were taking similar action when we took actions that all Haitians living here illegally ought to return to their country voluntarily by the end of the year. I’m sure everybody is aware of the potential impact on the Bahamas but it was a sovereign decision taken by a sovereign country. We all reserve the right to do that.
“The government of the Bahamas is considering a mission to Haiti where we will speak about the issue of immigration and the whole circumstances surrounding migration to the Bahamas. What we are seeing from Haiti are basically economic refugees, economic migrants seeking a better way of life and so our approach must be more broad, not just about securing our borders but it should also involve other aspects of commercial activity maybe by Bahamians in Haiti.
“It should include what the Haitian government is expected to do as a country with whom we share borders.”
When asked by a reporter for his answer to the country’s immigration problem, he said: “If I had the answer to that I’d make a lot of money to tell the Europeans what to do, to tell the United States what to do. The issue of immigration I suspect will be ongoing long after we have departed this place.”