By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
AMID clean-up efforts in storm ravaged Abaco, health and safety concerns remain prevalent and serious, according to the island’s hurricane relief and redevelopment coordinator, Algernon Cargill yesterday.
Mr Cargill expressed fears undocumented migrants living in poor conditions could spread communicable diseases, saying it is for this reason the push remains strong to discourage people from returning to the island or staying there at this time.
“We do not need for this situation to spiral out of control,” Mr Cargill told The Tribune yesterday.
This came after photos circulated on social media over the weekend of the Department of Immigration conducting an operation in Abaco shanty towns.
It is unclear what officials were doing there but it triggered harsh criticisms on social media.
Locally, Rights Bahamas castigated the Minnis administration, saying it was “unconscionable” that immigration had taken advantage of the vulnerability of people who lost everything, including loved ones, due to Hurricane Dorian. The organisation said it was heaping further misery upon their head.
Mr Cargill said: “I’d like to point out that there is practically no social services in Abaco, the educational system is closed, there is very little economic activity in Abaco and the government continues to encourage all undocumented persons and documented persons who may need some form of assistance to come to Nassau to one of the shelters in order for us to provide them with the basic care and social services that they would need in order for them to rebuild their lives.
“In terms of the Abaco resettlement, we have discouraged persons who don’t have a legal claim for returning because those who live in the migrant communities like the Farm and other places, they have to recognise that these areas are unsafe as determined by international organisations. We have to watch the spread of communicable diseases and for these reasons the undocumented persons remaining in Abaco in these shanty towns only will propagate the probability for the spread of diseases because from what I understand the drinking water in those areas are not safe. We do not need for this situation to spiral out of control.”
Mr Cargill said it could be “a while” before the clean-up effort is complete.
“It should be important to note that Abaco is just starting its period of recovery and I would say just about all of the businesses in the storm affected areas are closed.
“For that reason, because there is no economic activity, no social services, no schools, very limited healthcare, it’s strongly recommended that undocumented persons not return to Abaco because they will not only be a burden on the state but they will also, because of the conditions they live in, spread communicable diseases in the community.”
He said emergency shelters in New Providence were best suited for the needs of all, including those with no legal right to be in the country.
“The shelters are there. They get more protection not only from immigration but from a health and safety perspective. If you come to Abaco, what are you going to do? There is nothing to do. Abaco is not the place to look for opportunity right now.
“The conditions in Abaco are not yet at the level where persons without a real need to be there should be there.”
For its part, Rights Bahamas released a statement responding to the photos of immigration officials in Abaco shanty towns on Friday, saying indiscriminate raids and roundups are contrary to the law and violate the Constitution of the Bahamas.
According to reports, no information was given on the Abaco operation but 30 Haitian migrants were detained on New Providence. Ten were later released with 20 said to remain in custody on Friday and expected to face charges in court, according to a local daily.
“At a time when the international community and media are taking the Bahamas to task for its barbaric treatment of migrants in the aftermath of a humanitarian crisis, it is unthinkable that the authorities would behave in such a callous, inhumane and shameful manner,” Rights Bahamas said.
“Every single person whose freedom of movement, right to freedom from discrimination and right to due process were violated in this exercise have recourse to the justice, and Rights Bahamas stands ready to defend them in a court of law,” Rights Bahamas said yesterday.
The Bahamas government was taken to task on social media about the immigration operations in Abaco on Friday.
“I know the law has to be implemented, but please, have a heart...cut them some slack. They are humans, in fact, we are all humans,” one Facebook user commented under an article about the operation.
Another said: “Wicked Bahamians. Taking aid money and refusing to count the Haitian casualties after the hurricane. If the Haitians are less than human then so are you.”
“These people need a chance of survival in life, they need the respect as human beings,” another post read.
Several calls to officials, including Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson, went unanswered up to press time yesterday.