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Editorial: Clumsy Handling Of The ‘Haitian Problem’

WE couldn’t believe the news that was filtering back to us from the Lynden Pindling airport on Saturday afternoon. Under court orders, Bahamian-born Jean Rony Jean-Charles, 35, was on his way home after being deported to Haiti — a land he had never visited and whose language he barely understood. He was being returned on the orders of Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hilton.

Last week, Justice Hilton had ordered that travel documents be immediately issued so that Jean-Rony Charles could return from Haiti to The Bahamas at the government’s expense, and that no later than 60 days after his return he should be granted legal status in the country of his birth – The Bahamas. Government filed an appeal against the judge’s order, asking that it be stayed pending the outcome of the appeal. The appeal is to be heard at 2:30pm today.

Meantime, Immigration Minister Brent Symonette, acting on Mr Justice Hilton’s earlier instructions, by e-mail at 1:25pm Wednesday, January 31, notified Jean-Rony Charles’ attorney Fred Smith, QC, that “the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will shortly issue a travel letter and will advise you of the same. When you know the travel plans please advise me so that I can advise the Officer in Charge at LPIA.” — signed Brent Symonette.

Mr Smith thanked Minister Symonette by return e-mail for his prompt action and said he looked forward to hearing from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and he would advise him of the travel plans.

On the same day, Mr Smith notified Minister Symonette that he had received the travel documents for Jean Rony Jean-Charles. On Saturday, February 3, attorney Smith as requested, notified Minister Symonette and Immigration Director Russell that Jean-Rony was “flying back into The Bahamas on a Flamingo Air flight as per ticket attached for ease of reference. His flight is due to land at LPIA at 2:30 this afternoon” - Saturday. “Can you please, therefore advise the Officer in charge at the LPIA to expect JC’s arrival and see him through without any issue.”

“His family,” continued Mr Smith in his e-mail to Mr Symonette, “is very much concerned to avoid fanfare at the airport upon his arrival, and so I have arranged to simply have a person from my office receive him when he comes through Immigration and Customs.”

However, at 1:58pm that day, Attorney General Bethel notified Mr Smith of the judge’s reverse orders. The Attorney General copied the information to Minister Symonette instructing him that the Immigration Department was to be “so guided”. Attorney General Bethel sent a dated and signed copy of the stay order at 2.54pm. In other words, everything was to be cancelled until Monday’s court hearing.

But it was too late — Jean Rony Jean-Charles was to arrive at Nassau International Airport in about 15 to 30 minutes. Of course, what Attorney Smith now wants to know is how was the Judge contacted to get such a speedy reverse order — if by phone, why wasn’t Mr Smith also on the line to represent his client? And had Mr Justice Hilton been informed that acting on his original decision and instructions last week that nothing could be stayed because Jean-Rony was already overhead and about to land?

Earlier, Minister Symonette had commented that “persons born here should not be deported”. However, he made it very clear that that observation did not refer to the Jean-Rony case, which was now back in the court. However, no one expected Jean-Rony to be arrested and returned to the Detention Centre. It was expected that he would go to his family and be seen by a doctor for injured legs that needed attention.

One can imagine the resulting confusion as the word spread on social media (See today’s lead story).

One would have thought that everyone would have appreciated the delicacy of the situation and would have handled it discreetly until the court made its final decision today. But, oh no, politicians were stumbling over themselves again and creating situations that could have been avoided.

The words that flashed across our mind when told of what was going on at the airport were those of the Bard - Shakespeare — “But man, proud man, dress’d in a little brief authority…”

It is true that we have a problem of illegal Haitians, but rather than starting with those born, and settled here wouldn’t it be better to focus on the recent arrivals with no work permits? And then after getting that area cleaned up, concentrate on regularising those born here who consider themselves Bahamians with all the rights of citizenship.

However, what today we call a “Haitian problem” really started as a Bahamian problem. Bahamians had reached the stage in their development when they looked down on what they called “Haitian work”. As the late Dr Cleveland Eneas once commented: “Who is to clean my car, so that I can be free to run my dental practice?” Yes, for a well ordered society labour at all levels is needed — and is honourable if done with pride. How, could a dentist function efficiently if he also had to take time out to clean his car? The gap that was now widening had to be filled.

The stepped-up influx of Haitians started when on coming to power in 1967, the late prime minister Sir Lynden Pindling promised Bahamians that no longer would they be “hewers of wood and drawers of water”. Manual labour was not only demeaning, but abhorrent to Bahamian ears —“that’s Haitian work!” was their cry.

And so Bahamians left the farms. Slowly Haitians started to fill the gaps. Now we have what Bahamians call a “Haitian problem” — a problem of their own making.

However, we cannot forget that these are human beings with the same hopes, dreams and aspirations as the rest of us and they have to treated fairly.

As Joseph Darville of the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association told The Tribune during one of the many Haitian purges several year ago: “There is an incredible blight on this nation, and I am begging that for God’s sake, that my country do the right thing by the people. I do support my government in trying to bring some semblance of normalcy to the invasion of non-Bahamians in the country, but at the same time it should be done in a very humane manner.”

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