By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
RIGHTS Bahamas yesterday called for an overhaul of the Immigration Department after longstanding claims of bribery and excessive force were included in a newly released report by the US State Department.
The human rights group insisted “radical reform” of the department’s enforcement unit was the only way to bring an end to alleged “illegal apprehensions, bully tactics and degrading treatment”.
“The annual country report on human rights practices highlighted The Royal Bahamas Police Force must launch an immediate and thorough investigation into the Bahamas Immigration Department in light of the damning findings in the latest US State Department human rights report,” the press statement read.
“Rights Bahamas has long warned that the terrible reputation of this department would come to haunt the country, but these warnings fell on deaf ears. Now, the shameful sins of rampant corruption…and deplorable enforcement methods that lead to statelessness are on display for all the world to see.”
It continued: “Under the former PLP administration, the misdeeds of immigration escalated as never before with the tacit support of a government that sought to use xenophobia and abuse of migrants as a cornerstone of its political platform. There were high hopes that the FNM would take a different road.
“Unfortunately, under Minister (of Immigration) Brent Symonette, the longed-for reforms have not taken place.”
The statement said “illegal” raids, immigration roadblocks and deportations of people born in The Bahamas were still taking place.
Renewing concerns over statelessness in the country, the State Department concluded the government did not effectively implement laws and policies to provide “habitual residents” an opportunity to gain nationality in a timely manner, and on a nondiscriminatory basis.
As for the country’s respect for civil liberties, particularly freedom of movement, the report noted migrant claims of excessive force and warrantless searches by police and immigration officers.
Among migrant claims, the report continued, was “frequent solicitations of bribes by immigration officials” and widespread bias.
On the matter of law reform, amendments to the Immigration Act proposed by Law Reform Commissioner Dame Anita Allen, former Court of Appeal president, are reportedly still being considered.
Meanwhile, Commissioner of Police Anthony Ferguson told The Tribune last month police were still reviewing the information gleaned from a two-year FBI sting operation into visa fraud at the American Embassy in Nassau.
The operation led to the arrest and conviction of a Haitian-Bahamian, whose phone purportedly contained recordings of an unnamed immigration officer discussing bribery payments made to senior officials to secure permit approvals.
The RB statement continued: “The government simply cannot turn a blind eye this time. Our international reputation is at stake like never before. The RBPF, perhaps in cooperation with FBI or other international investigators, must break this immigration extortion ring and bring those responsible to justice.
“They must follow the trail of wrongdoing however high it leads,” it added.