By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
THE government’s decision to resume deportation of undocumented migrants was “painstaking”, but came only after careful analysis at a time deemed appropriately humane and necessary, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
While it defended the Minnis administration’s handling of the immigration situation in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, the ministry doubled down on the government’s unwavering position saying any person found in violation of the Bahamas’ Immigration Act will be dealt with according to statute laws. While pushing back against international scrutiny and criticism levelled at the government, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said this country was one that “strictly” adhered to the rule of law, both locally and internationally.
This especially pertained to the human rights of every man, woman and child on Bahamian territory, the ministry said in a statement over the weekend.
The statement further reinforced the position of Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis and the Department of Immigration on how those caught breaking immigration laws will be handled.
Last week, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called on the Bahamas to halt deportations of Haitians and other undocumented migrants as it insisted there had been no individual assessments and due process guarantees – entitlements under international law.
In response, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said deportations had been carried out consistent with international standards, specifically human rights norms.
“The ministry wishes to inform that pre, during and post-Hurricane Dorian, the Bahamas government relaxed its immigration deportation and repatriation policies and procedures to ensure the safety, security and well being of all persons, irrespective of nationality, within its borders,” the statement issued on Saturday read.
“During the search and rescue phase of the humanitarian efforts, all displaced persons were carefully accommodated in safe abode, whether with family members or an authorised shelter, irrespective of their immigration status.
“All were accommodated at international standards, inclusive of three hot nourishing meals per day, bottled drinking water, clothing and medical attention by government board certified physicians, inclusive of free psychological evaluations afforded to any person thought to be affected by the trauma of Hurricane Dorian.
“Once the urgent search and rescue phase had passed and a semblance of normalcy returned to the country, the Bahamas government made the painstaking, conscientious, but necessary, decision to resume the implementation of its immigration laws.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued: “All illegal migrants, irrespective of their origin, removed from the Bahamas, were done so in compliance with the statute laws of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, in accordance with the Immigration Act, consistent with the international standards of the rule of law and in compliance with international human rights norms and standards.
“The government of the Bahamas wishes to assure that there was adherence to all due process; and the requisite procedures for proper documentation via captured biometrics were followed to determine every individual’s constitutional right to reside lawfully in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. Persons found wanting and in violation of the Immigration Act were lawfully removed, in accordance with the requisite court orders.”
Last week, the UN body also said that while Bahamian authorities had initially said immigration enforcement activities would be suspended in the affected islands, this position was publicly reversed at the end of September, when they announced that all migrants without valid documents would be apprehended and deported.
This statement is correct, the ministry said, adding the Bahamas resumed lawful implementation of its laws after careful analysis, at a time when it was deemed appropriately humane and necessary to do so.
“Contrary to what has been alleged by OHCHR, the government has received no reports of ‘people leaving temporary shelters for fear of arrest and/or persons failing to avail themselves of necessary humanitarian services or fleeing into hiding.’”
Last Thursday, Attorney General Carl Bethel told The Nassau Guardian that the UN body’s position was “unfortunate” as it had applied standards to small countries like the Bahamas that were not enforced in their own countries.
“It is unfortunate sometimes that international organisations – with all respect – apply standards to little countries like the Bahamas that they do not enforce in their own countries,” he told The Nassau Guardian.
Mr Bethel added, “How would they know that this is not happening? Our immigration officers do not deport persons willy-nilly. In fact, the Immigration Department does not have the power to deport.
“It is the court that deports.”
The Attorney General said the UN should not “prejudge an issue based on something that they would’ve heard…from some social activist group”.