By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis yesterday restated his administration’s commitment to “correct” issues regarding gender inequality in the transference of citizenship, as promised in 2017.
He did not directly address observations the current draft Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill, 2018 does not close gaps between men and women on nationality matters, but instead offered that public consultation on the bill was essential.
“I think in a modern and transparent society it’s essential that the citizens have their input because at the end of it, you’ll have less friction in passing such a legislation,” he told reporters on the sidelines of an IDB loan signing.
“We’re looking at all the entities,” he said when asked about gender equality, “but we know what had happened in the referendum. I think we need to correct those issues and those are matters we have said, we will look at, we will correct, and we made the commitment we will do it.”
Last week, Progressive Liberal Party chairman Fred Mitchell said the Minnis administration’s proposed Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill does not change how Bahamian men and women transfer citizenship to their children.
The Minnis administration in 2017 promised to amend the Bahamas Nationality Act to redress the constitution’s citizenship inequities –– giving Bahamian women the right to automatically transfer citizenship to their children regardless of where their child is born.
Last week Mr Mitchell, former minister of immigration, said nothing in the draft bill appears to change the status quo on how citizenship is granted.
Meanwhile, Rights Bahamas president Stephanie St Fleur yesterday suggested citizenship applicants should be compensated by the Department of Immigration for missing documents or lost files as she amps up efforts to organise and educate “citizens-in-waiting”.
She reserved full comment on the draft bill as she was part of a stakeholder group reviewing the document, however, she underscored a staggering lack of accountability on the part of officials.
The immigration backlog drive was a personal initiative the activist started in 2014, when undocumented migrant children were unable to access public schools due to the advent of the belonger’s permit policy.
At the time, she issued a call for parents to contact her for assistance in writing followup letters to the Department of Immigration for applicants who had seemingly fallen through the cracks.
“I have some people who have applied from 2005,” she said, “probably even earlier than that, who haven’t received any word or information from the Immigration Department. We’re really thoroughly looking at the new bill, and my concern is they want to propose it but what about people who applied?
“Because there was a list that came out that people needed to come in whose documents were lost or files not completed, but when I applied at (Department of) Immigration when I was 18 for citizenship, they gave me a receipt.
“That receipt confirmed that everything they asked of me I presented to them, so those people holding those receipts means that immigration has their file and everything needed is there.
“So what is the compensation to people for their negligence? To get a birth certificate alone is expensive and then you have some people, their parents died. So it’s hard and they cant travel to Haiti to get the documents they need, so why are they making them responsible for their negligence?”
Ms St Fleur said her team is now focused on providing education and support to children aged 16 to 19, who have a right to apply for citizenship.
“We want them to start early,” she continued, “certain documents we know they cant get. We’re targeting the children because they need to educate their parents. Sometimes a lot of people go to the department and because of the language barrier there are so many errors. We’re doing a drive not just for them to apply early but for certain documents that don’t expire they can start working on it now.”