Financial Services, Trade and Industry and Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson.
By SYANN THOMPSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
IMMIGRATION Minister Elsworth Johnson said officials will investigate any documented allegations of abuse towards Haitian migrants.
His comments to The Tribune came after a spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration told a local media outlet some Haitian deportees claimed they had suffered physical and sexual abuse before being repatriated. Yesterday Mr Johnson said the government has frequently dealt with “false” accusations of abuse against migrants, however if a claim is credible he said a process has to be followed.
In monitoring the immigration crisis in the Bahamas, IOM’s Chief of Mission in Haiti Giuseppe Loprete told The Tribune that on the second and third rounds of deportation post-Hurricane Dorian, his team interviewed 150 persons, some of whom complained about being abused. He said the UN office of Human Rights was informed and the IOM office in the capital is expected to raise the issue and advocate for the respect of immigrants’ rights.
Mr Loprete earlier told Eyewitness News that allegations of sexual assault have been reported to Haitian authorities and the Bahamas mission. He also alleged that migrants who were processed last week displayed signs of physical abuse.
“In this last charter, we can confirm there are some migrants with evident signs of physical abuse, and again they have a lot of stories,” Mr Loprete told EWN Online. “Some black eyes, some bruising. We have informed our IOM colleagues in the Bahamas and we are talking with Haitian officials to see if they can send a message.”
However, Mr Johnson said the Department of Immigration has faced countless accusations of abuse against Haitian migrants that have been false.
“We are finding frivolous, vexatious and downright false accusations. Complaints have been made where there was alleged burning of people in the Bahamas. There was a particular booklet that showed pictures that were not taken in the Bahamas with a man holding a revolver and having an attack dog attack a person. These complaints have been unfounded,” he said.
As it relates to the alleged physical and sexual abuse of deportees, Mr Johnson said the Bahamas adheres to its international obligations, in particular the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and has emphasised the protection of fundamental rights. “What we would suggest is that those complaints come to us, that is documented, send it in. Too often we have these undocumented complaints being sent in and you have no complainant. We have to be fair in everything we do, and we will continue to comply with the law,” the immigration minister said.
The government’s decision to resume deportation of undocumented migrants weeks after Hurricane Dorian pummelled Grand Bahama and Abaco, leaving thousands homeless, was “painstaking” but came after careful analysis that was deemed appropriately humane and necessary, officials have said.
The Minnis administration has staunchly defended its handling of the immigration situation in the wake of the Category Five storm and said that any person found in violation of the Bahamas’ Immigration Act will be dealt with according to statute laws.