One of the boats intercepted by the Defence Force. Photo: RBDF
By SANCHESKA DORSETT
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE ROYAL Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) apprehended nearly 100 illegal migrants in three separate incidents over the holiday weekend.
In the first incident, RBDF officers caught 76 Haitian migrants on Saturday in waters near the Exuma chain.
It is the third group of Haitians to be captured in The Bahamas in recent weeks and came the day before Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis’ December 31 deadline for all illegal immigrants to leave the country voluntarily or face being “aggressively pursued and deported”.
In mid-December, Dr Minnis reiterated the call, saying undocumented migrants must leave the country by the end of the year or apply for legal status.
According to the RBDF, while on routine patrol on Saturday, HMBS Cascarilla under the command of Lieutenant Commander Clinton Johnson, apprehended a 40-foot Haitian sloop near the southern end of the Tongue of the Ocean, 20 miles west of the Exuma chain.
The migrants were taken into custody and turned over to Department of Immigration officials.
Also on Saturday, officers took six undocumented immigrants into custody after they were discovered at a local resort on North Bimini.
According to reports, shortly after 11am, officers acting on information went to the resort and discovered six immigrants, five males and one female, all from Ecuador.
They were handed over to the Department of Immigration.
Hours later, early on Sunday morning, nine foreign nationals were turned over to a RBDF patrol craft by a tanker off Grand Bahama.
The foreign nationals, one Haitian-Bahamian and eight Chinese, were retrieved from a partially submerged vessel by the crew of the passing tanker approximately 17 miles southwest of Grand Bahama.
The RBDF’s base at its Northern Command operations in Freeport was informed of the incident and one of its patrol craft took the foreigners into custody and they were later handed over to Immigration authorities in Freeport for further investigation.
THE RBDF said the latest apprehensions come as it continues to unfold its coastal and maritime security strategies to interdict people engaged in drug, human, gun and wildlife smuggling, in addition to poaching of marine resources by local and foreign fishermen along with a recent increase in boat theft.
On December 23, the RBDF apprehended 87 Haitian migrants on a sloop near Great Inagua. Three days later, a RBDF Harbour Patrol Unit vessel, while on routine patrol, stopped a vessel off Montagu Beach in New Providence with 14 foreign nationals on board.
The foreigners, several of whom arrived in country as passengers aboard an international airline, were from the United States, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Ecuador and Colombia. No Haitian nationals were among this group.
Last week the Department of Immigration deported 114 Haitians.
According to the head of the Department of Immigration’s Enforcement Unit, Kirklyn Neely, the Department of Immigration deported nearly 7,000 people in 2017.
The Department of Immigration intensified its apprehension efforts in November after a large empty sloop was discovered on the shoreline of Adelaide Beach.
One month later, a boat “loaded” with Haitian migrants landed near Clifton Pier, about three miles from Coral Harbour. Immigration officers and other authorities spent the following days 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 as a result of that sloop landing.