Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest.
By SYANN THOMPSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
ACTING Prime Minister Peter Turnquest says that there is no need for vitriol and prejudice towards undocumented immigrants, as he stressed the government’s responsibility to enforce the country’s immigration laws.
He was responding to Operation Sovereign Bahamas’ protest in front of Kendal GL Isaacs Gymnasium on Saturday, where a group of outraged protesters demanded that undocumented Haitian migrants be sent home. The gym has been housing storm victims since Hurricane Dorian displaced thousands of residents from Abaco and Grand Bahama in early September.
Mr Turnquest told reporters yesterday that The Bahamas is a country of laws and it is the government’s duty to enforce the law. He said: “The prime minister has been very clear about this. It’s not about persecution, it’s not about any kind of prejudice or inhumane action, it is about enforcing the laws of The Bahamas. Anyone that is here legally with an active work permit, permanent residence or nationalisation has a right to all of the protections that the state affords citizens and residents. If you do not fall in that category, then obviously we would expect you to do the honourable thing. So I want to say to Bahamians, there is no need for the level of vitriol or prejudice that some may be putting (out there).”
The United Nations has criticised the government’s rejection of its calls to halt the repatriation of undocumented migrants since Hurricane Dorian tore through Grand Bahama and Abaco, destroying nearly everything in its wake including several Abaco shanty towns where many Haitian migrants lived. Recently the government deported 228 Haitian migrants, more than 150 of them were from Abaco. since Dorian.
Mr Turnquest said that while The Bahamas has to be cautious about its approach to human rights in order to protect the dignity of individuals, the country must also enforce immigration laws to protect its borders.
“There are unfortunately some in our community who would like to fling open our borders to any and everybody, but as you know we do not have the resources to do that and so we have to be mindful and jealously guard what is Bahamian and the resources that we have available to provide services, at the level and efficiency that Bahamians and those who live legally among us demand; so that is our commitment,” he said on the sidelines of a Bahamas Institute of Chartered Accountants (BICA) event.
Meanwhile Operation Sovereign Bahamas founder Adrian Francis said his group is pushing for the government to clear out the gym of undocumented immigrants.
He said in a Facebook live video that the government has extended its graces long enough for the migrant storm victims. Mr Francis, a former radio talk show host, said: “The Haitians are sending out videos saying that they are not getting any kind of help. . .why are you telling people all over the world that we are mistreating you? We can mistreat you, but we refuse to because that’s not the kind of people we are. We’ve educated you, we’ve given you healthcare, we’ve allowed you to out birth us in our hospital, you have crowded our school system, we’ve done everything possible to ensure that we are cordial and nice.”
Mr Francis claims that the videos being sent out by some Haitians about the alleged mistreatment post-Dorian is unfair to the Bahamian people. He said: “It’s not fair for the Ministry of Tourism to put out fires because of the videos you are sending all over the world, it’s not fair for the minister of immigration to answer stupid questions about how we are mistreating Haitians, that’s not right. It’s not fair for The Bahamas government to have to answer questions on how best to treat you guys, when you get three meals per day in air condition every single day.”
Mr Francis also said the group wants migrants to come in the country legally.
“We are not trying to denigrate any innocent human beings, at some point we are going to have to get our gym back. Allow them to go home and come back through the front door. If they have no documents, the door is locked, it’s as simple as that. We are assisting the government in reminding them that the people in the gym need to go home, maybe they forgot.”
Mr Francis said the group is dissatisfied with the lack of information from the government and wants schedules and deadlines on when undocumented migrants who are living in the gym will be deported.
For his part, Mr Turnquest explained that the gym was only meant to be a temporary shelter therefore he anticipates that those persons will make every effort to leave the shelter as soon as possible. He understands the frustration of groups like Operation Sovereign Bahamas, but says that they must allow the government to do its job.
About two weeks ago, the National Emergency Management Agency reported that more than 700 people were still living in five hurricane shelters in New Providence.
Hurricane Dorian has inflamed tensions in some quarters between Bahamians and undocumented Haitian migrants, many of whom lived in unregulated communities in Abaco. After a brief suspension of immigration arrests and deportation after Hurricane Dorian, the Minnis administration resumed its hardline stance on the illegal immigration issue, while maintaining such exercises will be carried out humanely.