By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
FOREIGN Affairs Minister Darren Henfield agreed with Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis’ assertion that illegal immigration is a threat to the Bahamas, saying the country must not sit idly by and allow it to be “overtaken” by another country.
“We’ve been grappling with this problem for the last 50 years,” he told reporters outside of the Churchill Building yesterday. “Bahamians have been, in my estimation, quite tolerant.”
Mr Henfield said despite “fruitful discussions” with Haitian officials not much has been done to slow the number of undocumented migrants fleeing Haiti to the Bahamas.
Mr Henfield continued: “I think we are doing all that we can on a diplomatic level, reaching out to Haitian policymakers to explain to them that the way that this is happening is unfair to Bahamians and it has to stop.
“… We will continue to enforce the boarders, and we will continue to make diplomatic efforts to cause the Haitian government to appreciate what this effort or what this influx, the affect it is having on the Bahamas.
“The unfettered immigration of any people into a country like ours impacts us on many fronts. We have to invest in security and then, you know, the social aspects of it. There is threat to our national security along the lines of our economy as well; socially, people come and they have to go to schools, that impacts us; they have to have healthcare, that impacts us. There are other issues where you have to focus your law enforcement in that particular area which is a challenge for us,” he added.
Mr Henfield suggested the Bahamas must stand up for itself.
“… We will not stand idly by and allow us to be overtaken by any country who’s seeking to, you know,” he said.
“I heard someone say last night on the news that it is not a security threat, it is. That is why the issue of illegal migration is such a rife topic all across the globe. Everywhere you go people are talking about it because there has to be controlled migration. The government does not plan for illicit migration or for illegal migration into its territory. We plan for what we know, and so we are going to have to find more ways in which to mitigate and stem the flow. I think the Defence Force is doing a good job. I think we will continue to work as assiduously as we can on the diplomatic front to cause the Haitian government to come to the table and appreciate efforts that we are trying to make,” he said.
When asked by reporters if plans were underway for a second visit to Haiti in the wake of recent trends, Mr Henfield said no.
He told reporters that he has taken the initiative to reach out to Haiti’s new Foreign Minister Bocchit Edmond.
Of the latter, he added: “We will work … I believe we will work with anyone who appreciate the danger of unfettered migration into any country such as the Bahamas. A small country like ours, with less than 400,000 people, to be inundated with uncontrollable numbers of migrants is intolerable.”
Immigration Minister Brent Symonette also spoke about the issue yesterday.
“(Migrants) don’t just turn up,” he said. “This is big business.
“Trafficking of people is a big business and there are people living amongst us that are dealing with it.”
He said officials in the Department of Immigration have been working to improve many of the policies and practices which have proved counterproductive in the past, chief among which was the practice of deporting persons without a court hearing.
“Now persons will be prosecuted, they will have a criminal record and they won’t, certainly under my watch, get a work permit,” Mr Symonette told reporters. “That is the first phase.”
The second phase would be the incorporation of drone technology along the country’s southern borders.
Thirdly, Mr Symonette revealed that the Minnis administration was close to concluding its review of the Immigration Act, saying an amended bill could be presented to the public in the coming months for consultation.
He said Bahamians must confront how they contribute to the situation by seeking foreign labour.
“If I tell you ladies that your live-in nanny who takes care of your child has to go home in six years, you’d say well I just had a child born, I want that nanny to take care of my child. That is a legitimate concern, but see where the problem starts,” he said.
“We’ve nationalised since we did the Immigration Commission probably about 500 non-nationals. The minute we nationalise a lot of (these persons), I don’t know how many of you are aware, but the parents apply for the children who were born here before they were made Bahamian,” Mr Symonette added.
“So I (swear in) one person who is Bahamian, about four or five other children come under. So when I say we’ve done 300, 400 persons in the Immigration Commission, you’re talking about probably 1,200 people because the children come after that.”
“So it gets to be an exponential problem,” Mr Symonette said.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis characterised the ongoing migrant crisis as a serious threat to major sectors of Bahamian society.