Financial Services, Trade and Industry and Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson.
By SYANN THOMPSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
MINISTER of Immigration Elsworth Johnson said yesterday any churches and facilities that are setting up additional shelters not sanctioned by the relevant government agencies are doing so illegally.
Mr Johnson told The Tribune the Disaster Preparedness and Response Act outlines the standards required in order for a church or any facility to become a shelter. His remarks came after Director of Immigration Clarence Russell told a media outlet that officials had discovered various church groups and others were harbouring undocumented immigrants in facilities not been designated as emergency shelters by the government.
“There is a legal regime established for the creation of shelters and there is a reason for that, to ensure that they are properly staffed, that the proper protection is provided for women and children and persons who find themselves in a vulnerable position,” said Mr Johnson.
“Under the Act, it makes provision to set up these shelters and the role of social services and all of the social welfare infrastructure and what they play. What we know is that some persons may have started to create shelters and if they are not created in accordance with the law then they shouldn’t happen, it is unlawful. If they have not been approved by the legal procedure, they should not be established.”
Beyond harbouring undocumented migrants, those circumventing the proper legal approach for establishing a shelter can also cause havoc in the management of these facilities and adhering to humanitarian norms, according to Mr Johnson.
“There are simple things like, buildings are designed for only so many people. When you look at what the minister of social services had to do at the sports centre and in Fox Hill, you had people who had to come and service these facilities, for the electricity, for the air condition all those different things and it is very important in following the law to set up these things. To the extent that members of the community are not approved to create a shelter, they should not do that, because it is only when things go wrong and the world responds or better still the community responds then we find it so,” he said.
After Hurricane Dorian in early September, scores of storm victims were displaced and sought shelter in various islands. Many of the victims were undocumented Haitian migrants from destroyed shanty towns in Abaco. The government place a reprieve on apprehension and deportation of storm victims in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, however such practices resumed a few weeks later, to the chagrin of local and international human rights activists.
To date, the Department of Immigration has conducted repatriations of several hundred Haitian immigrants.
The government has announced that shelters will be closed by the end of 2019.