Haitian migrants displaced from their homes destroyed by Hurricane Dorian rest in a church shelter in Abaco on Saturday. Photo: Ramon Espinosa/AP
RIGHTS Bahamas said the government's policy of using the excuse of Hurricane Dorian to "ethnically cleanse the country of Haitian people" whether they have broken the law or not is "brutal" and "illegal."
In a statement released yesterday, the advocacy group reiterated its anger with a recent statement by Attorney General Carl Bethel, who told The Tribune on Monday that migrant storm victims who had lost their jobs due to the hurricane need to "go home" even if they had a valid work permit.
"These are people who broke no law, people who made their lives and homes here in accordance with the Immigration Act," RB said. "People who lost everything they owned, property, savings, travel documents, parents, wives, children.
"This policy of using the excuse of Hurricane Dorian to ethnically cleanse the country of Haitian people, regardless of whether they have broken the law or not, is brutal, abusive, illegal and contrary to every known international standard and treaty.
"The government wants to pretend that because the businesses that used to employ these people have disappeared or been temporarily disabled, they are suddenly been rendered outlaws. Aside this being a shameful case of kicking innocent people when they are down, it is also factually and legally wrong.
"At the very least, the attorneys in the administration should be aware that this is not how the laws of The Bahamas work. First of all, there is no such category under the law as 'illegal'. A person cannot be 'illegal' under any circumstances - it is an often-used, but legally meaningless expression.
"In reality, there are only two types of people when it comes to immigration: a) those who have been found guilty by a court of law of contravening the Immigration Act, and b) those who have not, and who are therefore considered innocent in the eyes of the law.
"RB said the people now being targeted are among the second category - they did not enter illegally, they did not overstay, they did not work without a permit.
"In short, they did nothing wrong. Therefore, no lawful action can be taken against them. Sadly, to certain xenophobic elements in the country, the distinction will not matter. 'Illegal' is too often just a code-word for 'Haitian' and the appeal to enforce immigration laws just an excuse to support the eradication of a hated minority, regardless of whether they have broken the law or not.
"What the Bahamas government is seeking to do in unconscionable. It is attempted ethnic cleansing. As we have said, the matter is being reported to the United Nations, the OAS, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and we are applying for official action to be taken by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights."