By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
CONDITIONS at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre and the impact of government policy on migrants and their descendants will be the focal point of activists’ petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) next week.
Rights Bahamas, in a joint request with the Washington-based group Robert F Kennedy Human Rights, will seek to expand on their 2015 appearance, arguing that inhumane conditions at the detention facility have persisted despite precautionary measures.
The group submitted a summary of their presentation to the IACHR last week. “The current information available to petitioners suggests that detainees at Carmichael Road Detention Centre and the ‘safe house’ set up for women and children continue to suffer from overcrowding, poor nutrition, lack of hygiene facilities, and no access to medical or legal supports,” the presentation’s summary read.
“Former detainees also report that the guards at Carmichael Detention Centre were aggressive and verbally abusive and used physical counts as a means of control and abuse,” it continued.
“Individuals detained at Carmichael in 2017 report that conditions at the safe house for women and children are equally inhumane and that women and their children are vulnerable to sexual violence.”
The group references affidavits from former detainees that were used in habeas corpus applications to secure their release.
Among them are accounts from Haitian Fanel Gassant, who was arrested and detained while awaiting a decision on a spousal permit, and Jamaican Kediesha Bent-John, who is married to a Bahamian, and was detained with her 11-year-old daughter.
The two are currently suing the government for damages alongside more than 15 former detainees, whose writs detail claims for assault, battery, false imprisonment and breaches of constitutional rights.
To provide an overview of the current situation, activists also plan to cover: frequent immigration raids and round-ups; deportations of people born in the Bahamas; the demolition of shanty towns; children being turned away from school due to lack of documentation; and ongoing threats to human rights defenders.
The group refers to the draft Nationality, Immigration, and Asylum Bill released last month, but notes it contains a provision that would prevent people born in the Bahamas from becoming citizens if they are 19 and older, and provisions that maintain differences in passage of citizenship based on gender.
“Migrants and Bahamians of foreign descent who are detained at Carmichael Road Detention Centre are not guaranteed access to counsel or the right to be heard before deportation,” the group’s summary read.
“Attorneys for detainees have been blocked from meeting clients and have been forcibly removed from the centre. Similarly, petitioners are concerned about the lack of appropriate procedures for the screening of persons with a legitimate claim for refugee status, asylum seekers, those at risk of refoulement and persons at risk of statelessness.”
At the hearing, activists will request the IACHR conduct an on-site visit to gather information on the effect of government policy on migrants and their descendants, including direct testimonies and a visit the Carmichael Road Detention Centre.
The group also plans to ask for the IACHR to: request information from Bahamas government on how the proposed NAIB is compatible with the state’s obligations under international human law; provide country assistance undersigning and implementing human rights training protocol for officials, including the role and protection of human rights defenders; and conduct further monitoring.
Requests for the government include: revise the draft NIAB to ensure its compatibility with international human rights law; stop arbitrary arrests and halt detentions and deportations until policies are aligned with international law; use detention only as a last resort with clear limits on the length of detention; ensure children are not barred from school due to lack of documentation, that their rights to education are not dependent upon the migratory status of their parents; and engage regularly with civil society.
The RB delegation will include: Stephanie St Fleur, RB president, and committee members Louby George, Fred Smith, Joseph Darville, Alexandria Levarity, Wislande Geffrard and Dawrin Miguel Thompson, along with Kacey Mordecai, a programme officer at RFK Human Rights.