The Tribune canvassed people at the Kendal Isaacs Gym following Saturday’s protest – pictured are Ellen Petit and John Maurin.
Photos: Shawn Hanna/Tribune staff
By LEANDRA ROLLE
SEVERAL storm victims yesterday criticised members of Operation Sovereign Bahamas for their decision to protest against migrants staying at Kendal GL Isaacs Gymnasium in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, calling the move “disrespectful” and “heartless.”
Ellen Petit, 53, recalled when protesters first visited the gym on Saturday, shouting at them “to go back home.” The protest, which went on despite bad weather on Saturday, Mrs Petit said, brought back harrowing memories of the powerful storm for many hurricane victims staying at the shelter.
“They were (initially) standing where they were selling the food and they marched back. Then they come stand in the rain (protesting) because they saw us outside,” she said. “It put people in tears. Some people said it feel like the storm coming back. It feel like the hurricane. They remembered their loved ones who died in the storm and people started crying. It wasn’t nice,” she added.
“It was not right because what we been through, I think some people should have come out and support us and help us and not protest against us. We had someplace where we were staying, we didn’t mean for (our) house to be broken.”
Some storm victims said they don’t want to return to Haiti because there is no future for them there.
One of them is Merlande Theophile. Mrs Theophile said she has been living in Treasure Cay, Abaco for 17 years without papers.
“I can’t go (back to) Haiti because I have three kids and Haiti is difficult. If we go Haiti, we gone die,” she told The Tribune yesterday.
To help ease increasing tensions in the country over illegal migration, Mrs Petit, who a Haitian-Bahamian, said the government should send undocumented Haitians to Abaco to help with the rebuilding process.
“Them Haitians ain’t lazy, give them a work permit for a year or three years. Then after a year, if they ain’t find someone to renew it then you got to go back. These people have children. Haiti is always at war. They can’t go back,” she said.
Another shelter resident, Eronne Lubin, 46, also criticised the group for the protest on Saturday. Although she was not at the gym when the group demonstrated, Mrs Lubin said when she heard the news, it disheartened her.
“What they did on Saturday was not called for. They should’ve had a meeting or gone to government (in) private. It made them feel bad and even me when I came from the seminar. It makes you feel bad,” she said. “We don’t have no family over here (and) everything we have has been destroyed and if they put us out, where are we going? We don’t want to stay here forever. The only reason we here is because (of) Dorian.”
Another shelter victim, who did not want to be named, added: “I think the protest was disrespectful. We’re all human. We might not have the same nationality, but we’re all human. It’s not only Haitians in there. They have (tents) in the back full of Bahamians. Why they make it seem like only Haitians here? That’s so heartless.”
The gym has been housing storm victims since Hurricane Dorian displaced thousands of residents from Abaco and Grand Bahama in early September.
But, Operation Sovereign Bahamas founder Adrian Francis said his group is pushing for the government to clear out the gym of undocumented immigrants. “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,” he said in a Facebook live video on Saturday.
Speaking to reporters on the matter on Monday, acting Prime Minister Peter Turnquest noted that the gym was only meant to be a temporary shelter for hurricane victims and therefore he anticipates that those persons will make every effort to leave the shelter as soon as possible.
Mr Turnquest said he understands the frustration of groups like Operation Sovereign Bahamas, but they must allow the government to do its job.
Two weeks ago, the National Emergency Management Agency said there were more than 700 people living in five shelters across New Providence.