By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE government is considering extending the age limit to apply for a Belonger’s permit in a bid to reduce the risk of statelessness for persons born in The Bahamas to migrant parents, Attorney General Carl Bethel revealed yesterday.
Mr Bethel flagged the move as a major initiative as he foreshadowed the impact of the proposed amendment to the Bahamas Nationality Act, in his national report to the UNHRC’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group session in Geneva, Switzerland.
“On the issue of statelessness,” Mr Bethel said, “the Migration Working Group is presently reviewing the two UN Conventions that speak to the status and the reduction of statelessness and is also engaging in the conversation on the extent of the issue of statelessness within The Bahamas.
“In November 2014, the government implemented a policy providing for all children up to 18 years of age to obtain a Belonger’s permit. However, there was much debate surrounding the use of the Belonger’s permit and its possible implications.
“It should be highlighted that the intent of the Belonger’s permit was to give some form of status/documentation to children who were born in The Bahamas to immigrant parents, thus reducing the number of persons rendered stateless. The government is giving consideration to extending the age limit to apply for a Belonger’s permit. The plan is to extend the time so that the permit will subsist pending the outcome of an application for citizenship pursuant to the Constitution, even if the process extends beyond several years.”
Mr Bethel also reiterated the Minnis administration’s commitment to introduce an independent committee to review all pending applications for citizenship, and provided figures demonstrating the government’s efforts to prosecute human traffickers and protect victims.
In 2017, Mr Bethel states, the government began 11 new labour and sex trafficking investigations, screened 37 potential trafficking victims, identified five victims, and initiated one new prosecution, which ended in a conviction in December 2017.
He said the government also increased funding for victim assistance and expanded procedures to include identification and interviewing guidelines to cover labour trafficking victims. For the 2016-2017 budget cycle, the government spent $59,450 on the care of trafficking victims.
“The government also provided subsidies of $180,000 Bahamian dollars to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that provide services to trafficking victims, among other vulnerable groups. The government granted one foreign victim relief from deportation,” he said.
“Authorities assist trafficking victims in prosecutions by providing lodging, food, stipend, clothing and other basic necessities, medical assistance and psychological counseling, immigration relief, legal assistance, support during court proceedings, and witness protection, which may include police protection, as needed.
“Bahamian law permits victim testimony via live television links and for the reading of written statements into evidence.
“The government increased prevention efforts, taking steps to inform the public and potential victims about trafficking. The government’s inter-ministerial committee to coordinate anti-trafficking policy meets regularly, as does the government’s 67 anti-trafficking taskforce, which is charged with ensuring operational co-ordination on trafficking cases.”