By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
RIGHTS Bahamas criticised the government’s “savage and cold-hearted” position on displaced Hurricane Dorian migrant victims, pledging yesterday to alert international human rights groups to the policy.
The group’s statement came after Attorney General Carl Bethel said migrants who lost their jobs because of the storm “need to go home” even if they have unexpired work permits. The Department of Immigration also specified that prospective employers of migrants must prove applicants have satisfactory living conditions to get a permit.
After suspending apprehension and repatriation exercises immediately following the storm, the government has escalated its rhetoric about migrants in recent weeks. Last week, Minister of Immigration Elsworth Johnson and Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis told The Tribune undocumented migrants affected by the storm will have no special protection from deportation.
The Minnis administration says its position has never changed but recent comments have baffled those who interpreted its early statements as signs displaced residents would be given a reprieve or special consideration because of their circumstance.
Rights Bahamas said yesterday: “We condemn this sudden about-face from the government’s earlier declaration that it will not target migrant victims of the storm and denounce the scheme for (what) it clearly is – a shameful attempt at political posturing aimed at currying favour with xenophobic elements of the populace.
“What’s more, Mr Bethel’s call for migrants who have lost their jobs because of Dorian to leave the country is hollow and disingenuous. How will those who have lost their property, their money and probably their travel documents manage to leave? This is nothing more than a precursor and excuse for an exercise of mass illegal deportation without due process.”
As many as 41 percent of people in Abaco’s shanty towns had status through their work permits, according to a 2018 government report. Some of the businesses that employed them are considering how to provide accommodations for staff.
Mr Johnson said the government has the discretion to give businesses time to regain their footing and provide proper accommodations for their workers, though he reiterated the administration’s position that people who lost their jobs should go home because they will not be taken care of by the state.
Rights Bahamas called this inhumane.
“To know that people have lost their homes, jobs, everything and then declare that they must prove they are employed and have satisfactory living conditions - whatever this arbitrary phase is supposed to mean - or else leave the country immediately, is the height of cynicism and cruelty,” the group said. “Migrants on work permits have broken no law; the storm was not their fault. This move will undoubtedly affect hundreds of children of migrants born in the Bahamas, effectively denying them the right to Bahamian citizenship as mandated by the constitution. Once expelled with their parents, we all know that they will never be allowed back in to access their birthright. For many, this could mean being rendered stateless if their parents have passed away/and or they have no way to prove their connection to whatever country our government is planning to expel them.
“Rights Bahamas is using all of its international partners to vocally condemn this declaration by the Bahamas government. We are also reporting the matter to the UNHCR and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, with a view to seeking precautionary measures to protect the migrant population.”
The government’s position comes as the country continues to seek donations and international help in the wake of Hurricane Dorian and as officials have encouraged foreigners to visit the country and inject money into the economy. Before Cabinet yesterday, reporters asked Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest if he is concerned the country will lose out on donations and help from the international community because of the government’s stance towards some migrants affected by the storm.
He said: “This is a very sensitive issue and we want to be particularly careful with respect to the impressions we are giving to the international community as to how we are handling the migrant situation. Let me say, those persons who have a legal right to be here, either through permanent residency or citizenship or through work permit that is active, they are free to do and conduct their business as they’ve always done.
“But the government has been resolute with respect to illegal migration which is a continued sensitivity for the Bahamian people. We are resolute with respect to managing the inflow of illegal migrants and we will continue to execute the laws of the Bahamas with respect to immigration. We have to handle the matter with sensitivity. There has unfortunately been so much social media misinformation and sensationalism that has gone out and it has raised the ire of the Bahamian community and unfortunately sometimes we make some statements in anger that may give an incorrect impression about who we are as a people and our concern about these people as humans. We have to ensure that the international community understands our response, understand that we are responsible members of the global community and we appreciate our obligation to ensure that human rights are respected in all of the things that we do in managing this situation that we have.”