By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
BAHAMIANS of Haitian descent in Abaco sent a strong warning to Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis over the new immigration deadline: “Five years will come again”.
Residents of the country’s largest and oldest shanty towns, the Mud and Pigeon Peas, voiced extreme disappointment over the tone struck by Dr Minnis, whom they feel betrayed members of the Haitian community after pandering for their vote ahead of the general elections.
“We as Haitian,” said Bahamian Anne-Rose Jean, “we don’t have no problem with him (Dr Minnis), because we know that five years coming again. We put him there, remember Dr Minnis, we put you where you are today. You reach after four months and we are the same people you throw the rock at, but another five years will come again.
“We don’t put you there forever, after five years you will see what’s going on because Haitian is a nation who don’t scared suffering. We used to that, we used to suffering, and so we will wait another five years because we sure you coming again.”
Although the deadline will not affect her, Ms Jean, 40, said she took strong exception to Dr Minnis’ statement because it signaled that there would be no real change to the government’s futile, costly, and inhumane approach to immigration.
The Tribune canvassed the Mud and its adjacent sister settlement Pigeon Peas to get reaction to Dr Minnis’ deadline on Saturday.
Residents stressed that they were not against the enforcement of immigration laws but against unlawful deportations and detention, irregular processing and subsequent backlogs, and a complete lack of political will to provide meaningful solutions.
A frequent suggestion made to The Tribune was for the Department of Immigration to modernize and clear its backlog before setting off on a crusade similar to the one that became an international spectacle and human rights disaster on November 1, 2014.
Other residents questioned how the new deadline would affect the scores of students unable to attend school due to the existing requirements for school permits under the November 2014 policy.
Last month, Ministers of Immigration and Education Brent Symonette and Jeffrey Lloyd suggested that the policy would be relaxed to allow all school-aged children to be registered in compliance with both Bahamian and international law.
However, Education Direct Lionel Sands confirmed to The Tribune on Friday that the department has not yet received the authorization needed from the Cabinet to direct changes.
Sandra, 16, told The Tribune that she plans to stay with friends if her parents get deported along with her two younger siblings.
She will complete her studies next year and hopes to become a business woman after she applies for her citizenship at 18.
However, she said it was heartbreaking watching other children languish in the community because they cannot attend classes.
Stephanie, Sandra’s younger sister, will turn five next month. It is not expected that she will be able to enter grade 1.
“I don’t feel no type of way (about the deadline), but I feel bad for the kids who aren’t going to school,” Sandra said tearfully.
“I’m graduating next year, I don’t have my passport (but still allowed to go to school). It’s affecting (migrant children) them badly. Some of them don’t know how to count, don’t know their alphabet, don’t know their colours and it’s sad.
“I wanted to be a business woman, have my own business. My mommy is scared and my dad, I don’t know how he feels about it.
While officials have stressed that the new deadline would affect migrants of all nationalities, shanty town residents yesterday highlighted that the coded language made it clear that Haitians were the target given historic prejudices as the largest migrant group in the country.
Many surmised that the move was a desperate attempt to revive plummeting approval ratings for the Minnis administration, and expressed outrage that the Haitian community was still being scapegoated for the nation’s ills.
Ms Jean continued: “I want this message to go into the government’s ears, the Prime Minster, because he spoke to me at the rally here before the election. (Dr Minnis) He said where you from, I said Farm Road, he said you know me well, I said yeah I know you well.
“That Prime Minister job is not Minnis position, Minnis should have stayed where he was, you’re a doctor stay right there. They don’t give no chance to nobody else, the pot only boiling one side some get, some don’t get none, some are dying. Dr Minis catch your sense because you’re dealing with Haitians, remember, that’s a nation that’s not scared of suffering.
“We will have an answer for you in the next five years,” Ms Jean added, “put that to your head and thank you very much.”