By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE Bahamas-born grandchildren of Haitian migrants are recognised by the government as stateless, according to Social Services Minister Frankie Campbell, who told a United Nations body the government is working to amend the Nationality Act to ensure no one falls through the cracks.
Mr Campbell clarified the government’s position during the country’s review at the 71st Session of the Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in Geneva last week.
His response contradicts statements made by successive administrations who have denied the existence of such a grouping.
“On the question of statelessness, there is the understanding that legally a person who is the child of someone who is born in Haiti, but (the child) born in the Bahamas after 1973 – and I use Haiti but this is in general to anyone from any other country but because question came specifically as it relates to Haitians – that person has the option of having the nationality of his or her parents until such time as he is 18 years old and has the opportunity to apply for Bahamian citizenship,” Mr Campbell said.
“So in our view that person is not stateless, that person has the option of the nationality of his Haitian, Jamaican, American, or any other parent until such time as allowed by the constitution to apply for Bahamian citizenship.
“Now the person who is actually stateless is the second generation,” he continued, “because the constitution of Haiti does not recognise that individual as being able to get the citizenship of the parents, and because the parents are not legal, then that person is in that state of statelessness.
“However, the state party, the government has recognised that and that is a part of our conversation even now as we speak. We have convened an immigration board, we are looking as I would have indicated at amendments to the Nationality Act to ensure that no one falls through that crack of statelessness.
“So I agree with every instance where it is lamented that the Bahamas is behind on some of our legislation. I acknowledge,” he added, “I want it to be known that we are actively pursuing means by which those matters can be addressed.”
Also at the forum, Jewel Major, chief counsel in the Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Legal Affairs, reported to the committee that 207 applications have been processed by the immigration board.
“Since February,” Ms Major said, “the applications of young people who have to apply for naturalisation after they reach 18 before 21. Their mandate is to go through the backlog...try to decrease the chance of statelessness with some of our young people.”
This year marks 25 years that the Bahamas has ratified the CEDAW Convention, and at last Thursday’s session, the Bahamas delegation presented the country’s sixth periodic state report.
Following the report, the state delegation led by Mr Campbell fielded questions from the CEDAW expert panel – among them committee member Marion Bethel, the first Bahamian selected to sit as an expert on the CEDAW Convention.
“On the whole question of undocumented women, particularly women coming from Haiti,” Mr Campbell said, “this is a subject with which I am very intimate. My mother is Haitian from Haiti, and so I am familiar with the plight of that grouping of persons.
“I’m also familiar with the fact that the Bahamas and Haiti have signed onto a number of accords and they’re all in agreement that Haitian migrants, including women, would be properly processed and there is a line of communication. We have an embassy in Haiti. Haiti has diplomatic representation in the Bahamas, and so the line of communication is open and under the most humane circumstances those persons, once processed and meet the criteria between the two embassies, are repatriated to Haiti.”
Addressing statelessness, Mr Campbell was responding to questions from Austrian CEDAW expert and former judge Lilian Hofmeister, who was critical of the country’s efforts to bring its legal framework in line with several international conventions.
Ms Hofmeister said it was a “pity” the government did not withdraw its reservation on CEDAW Article 9-2, which speaks to providing women equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of their children.
“The concept of equity is wrongful,” Ms Hofmeister said. “It is a pity that two referenda regarding transmitting nationality to children whose mothers are married to foreign husbands failed although the ratification of CEDAW was in 1993. And meanwhile, the population of the Bahamas should have developed a proper understanding of equality.
She said: “There exists no refugee legislation providing rights and judicial remedies. Asylum seekers and refugees are treated on an ad-hoc basis. This means without legal basis.”
For her part, the Austrian expert was critical of the country’s treatment of foreign nationals and their children in comparison to its approach on foreign investment.
She said the burden to risk statelessness for their spouses and children was placed on women due to discriminatory laws, and noted Haitians were an “important minority” that suffered “exceptionally from this unlawful situation.”
“Bahamian men have the right to confer their citizenship on their foreign spouses automatically,” she said, “but Bahamian women don’t have the same right.
“Not to be a Bahamian citizen means potentially detention, possibly deportation, problems with access to education, healthcare, employment, and a lack of economic and political participation. Let me make a comparison to put it bluntly: foreign money and investment finds a ready welcome, foreign individuals, especially children, often do not.
“Or in other words,” she added, “shareholders and investments can say with good reason it is better in the Bahamas, mothers and their children often cannot.”