THERE is a lot of sabre rattling when it comes to the issue of immigration – so it was very welcome to hear the clear voice of retired Justice Rubie Nottage yesterday putting issues into perspective.
She pointed clearly at one of the major issues affecting The Bahamas – the lengthy delays in processing applications for citizenship.
As she pointed out, you can have someone waiting for a citizenship application who gets married and has children while they wait. After all, life and love do not wait for paperwork. If that spouse also has no documents, then the child finds itself only entitled to citizenship at the age of 18.
If that child marries or has children while waiting for papers again, well… you see how this can go on for generations.
Immigration stokes hot feelings – but bear in mind these can be people who have done everything right. They are applying as they have been told, and they are made to wait by… what? What good reason is there for any such application to take years?
Politicians argue that there is no such thing as statelessness because people can apply for passports and documentation from the country they are descended from, but we have people from the third generation and more left in limbo while bureaucracy strangles their hopes.
Tackling such bureaucracy wouldn’t just help those who sometimes lack sympathy from Bahamians frustrated by immigration issues – it would help Bahamians themselves.
Another speaker at the same event as Mrs Nottage was Maha Maho, a formerly stateless woman who finally gained refugee status in Brazil.
She said: “The dignity of human beings with stateless people doesn’t exist. You get born, you don’t have your birth certificate, you live your life, then you die without death certificate. You’re just like a shadow, you come and you go. No one really knows about your existence.”
So we welcome Mrs Nottage’s assertion that people who wait more than five years for their application to be answered have a right to sue the government.
We are almost tempted to say that anyone forced to wait that long should automatically be approved – and if anyone wants to disagree with it, the answer is simple: speed the system up.
What steps are you taking now, Mr Dames?
The shooting of three people by police officers in a raid on Friday morning continues to raise concerns.
Yesterday, Minister of National Security Marvin Dames did little to quell those worries as he said that officers “did what they had to do”.
In his defence, he also urged people to “hear the matter out before a court of law”, but we know how long it can take for matters to reach the Coroner’s Court. As we noted yesterday, a case of a police-involved shooting took five years to trundle its way to the coroner. That, alone, cannot be the solution. Just as people should not be waiting years for citizenship applications, nor should people be waiting years for answers after a shooting.
That, however, seems to be Mr Dames’ solution. No mention of steps that can be taken now. No mention of trying to expedite cases to the coroner or increase funding to speed up that step. No mention of a date by which we can expect every police station to have CCTV to monitor for potential abuses. No mention of when the proposed bodycams would be able to give us footage of what happened in incidents like these. No mention of when the legally mandated Police Complaints Inspectorate would be functioning and able to investigate independently of police.
As long as these steps are shrugged off, then saying wait and see seems little more than kicking the can down the road and hoping people stop asking questions.
We do not know if police did anything wrong in this incident – there are after all two sides to the story – but there is little sign in the official response that there is any urgency to find out.