By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
AS the government’s December 31 deadline for irregular migrants to leave the country looms, seven international human rights groups have expressed concerns over its impact on Bahamian-born children and the compliance of state deportation procedures with international law.
In a joint statement, the signatory organisations urged the government to share a written policy on migration, which they noted should be human-rights based with detention used only as a last resort.
The groups expressed concerns over media reports on the increased apprehension exercises, which include the stop and search of suspected migrants and shantytown raids, following the announcement of the December 31 deadline.
Signatories include: Amnesty International; Caribbean Institute for Human Rights; Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL); Centro para la Observación Migratoria y el Desarrollo Social en el Caribe (Observation Centre for Migration and Social Development in the Caribbean, OBMICA); The Institute on Race, Equality, and Human Rights; Robert F Kennedy Human Rights; and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).
The statement read: “The signatory organisations call on the Bahamian authorities to urgently share a written human rights-based migration policy that uses detention only as a measure of last resort; includes details of the processes available to those who wish to regularize their status; screening processes to avoid the expulsion of individuals born in the Bahamas with a right to Bahamian nationality; and processes to assess asylum claims with all procedural safeguards.”
It continued: “We remind the Bahamian authorities that in accordance with international standards, any deportation procedures must ensure individual assessments of each case, provide individuals with deportation orders in writing, and safeguard the right of individuals to challenge their deportation order before an independent court of law.”
The Immigration Act also calls for similar processing before the courts before a person is deported; however, officials are of the opinion that this process would severely backlog operations due to the high volume of irregular migrants.
The international groups recalled the country’s 2015 hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) concerning the impact of its November 2014 policy, and conditions at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre.
The IACHR requested the county adopt precautionary measures to “safeguard the lives and integrity of detainees held at Carmichael Detention Centre, including providing better hygienic conditions, medical treatment for detainees, reducing overcrowding, access to legal assistance, and allowing civil society organisations access to Carmichael to monitor conditions.”
The statement continued: “To date, we understand that conditions at Carmichael remain similar to those that formed the basis of the request in 2015 and we urge the Bahamian authorities to fully implement those measures.”
Meanwhile, local advocacy group Rights Bahamas has called for the resignation or firing of Immigration Director William Pratt for “blatant human rights abuses and constitutional violations which have occurred on his watch,” singling out the deportation of Bahamian-born minors.
RB charged the only possible aim for removing persons with rights to apply for citizenship, without due process, was “ethnic cleansing.”
“In that regard,” the RB statement read, “considering his admission that it is the overt policy of the Immigration Department to expel minors born in the Bahamas along with their parents, Rights Bahamas calls for the immediate resignation of Immigration Director William Pratt. If he will not resign, he must be fired. The blatant human rights abuses and constitutional violations which have occurred on his watch cannot go without consequence.”
RB welcomed the support of international human rights associations, charging in a separate statement that the December 31 ultimatum risked more than just an “international black eye” for the country.
The local group reiterated their position on the illegality of apprehension exercises and detention at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre.
RB referred to a recent incident in which a young child and her mother were injured after falling from a truck bed in a bid to evade immigration officers.
“We join human rights defenders from across the globe in denouncing the inexcusable forms of abuse which have been reported over the past several weeks – aptly symbolized by the harrowing images of facial injuries suffered by a young, frightened child,” the RB statement read.
“We have warned the government repeatedly that their high-handed and aggressive actions against migrants are illegal, discriminatory, abusive and violate numerous international treaties to which the country is signatory. Clearly, such behaviour has no place in a modern progressive society.”
The RB statement continued: “We are a tourist destination which draws nearly all its visitors from Western, liberal, progressive countries – societies whose immigration policies have evolved and matured to regard irregular migration not as a criminal undertaking, but rather a tragic human rights challenge.”