Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis speaks in the House of Assembly on Wednesday. Photo: Terrel W. Carey Sr/Tribune Staff
By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced yesterday that Attorney General Carl Bethel has been instructed to compulsorily acquire land where shanty towns in Abaco once stood.
He also warned undocumented migrants to leave the country voluntarily or be forced to leave, reiterating comments he made in 2017.
This is the latest strike from the Minnis administration to thwart rebuilding and repopulation of The Mudd, Pigeon Peas and Sand Banks shanty towns.
The prime minister suggested yesterday that the move was in response to “noise” in the public concerning shanty town land.
This comes after Haitians from shanty town communities told The Tribune that they would welcome the option from the government to purchase land to rebuild their homes after Hurricane Dorian flattened virtually all structures in those areas. Others have said their lives were in limbo as they waited for clear government indication on the future plan for those areas.
“I have said before, and you will recall, we will eradicate shanty towns and return law to our country,” Dr Minnis said during his first address to the House of Assembly since Hurricane Dorian’s passage.
“I have heard noise about properties of shanty towns. I have informed the Attorney General (Carl Bethel) to compulsorily acquire The Mudd, Pigeon Peas, Sand Banks and other areas.
“This morning I met with representatives from the IOM – International Organisation of Migration — and they were informed that we are a country of laws and our laws with respect to illegal immigrants will be carried out. However, they will be carried out in a humane manner.
“Therefore I send a notice to all those who are illegal that they can leave voluntarily or they will be forced to leave,” Dr Minnis warned.
Dr Minnis also said the government is looking at making it easier for developers to take advantage of duty-free waivers in order to build affordable housing for displaced shanty town residents.
When contacted yesterday, Mr Bethel said the Minnis administration will acquire the land in question under Acquisition of Land Act. He said under this law, the government can exert eminent domain for a public purpose.
Mr Bethel said while a portion of the shanty town properties has been under dispute under the Quieting Titles Act, a significant part is owned by the private sector while some is already owned by the government.
Government officials have been taking a hard stance on migrant issues in recent days.
The Department of Immigration earlier this week warned prospective employers of non-Bahamian workers that applications for new work permits or renewals must satisfy immigration officials that satisfactory living accommodations have been arranged by that employer on behalf of the prospective worker.
The department also said applicants must satisfy officials “that the said worker will not become a charge on the state or be permitted to live in sub-standard housing” adding anyone found in violation of the immigration laws will be subject to arrest, criminal proceedings and, where applicable, detention and deportation.
After the statement was released, Mr Bethel told The Tribune migrant storm victims who lost their jobs as a result of the storm “need to go home” even if their work permits had not yet expired.
“If the employer is still paying them then they have a job, if not then they need to go home,” Mr Bethel told The Tribune on Monday. “The files will reflect who the business or homeowner applicant is. We will know if a job exists.”
According to the government’s 2018 shanty town report, 41 percent of Abaco residents in the areas were legal residents as a consequence of their work permits.
In keeping with a 2014 immigration policy put in place by the Christie administration, the department also said first time work permit applicants must be living in their own country when that application is made.
“The public is advised that non-nationals seeking employment in The Bahamas must be approved by the Immigration Department and that applications for the issuance of the first work permit will not be accepted or considered unless the individual is physically present and resident in his or her country of origin at the same time that the first application is made,” the Department of Immigration said.
“Further, the public is hereby reminded that work permits are non-transferable from employer to employer. Any transfer from one employer to another under a current permit may only be legally affected by a new application submitted by that new employer.”