By TANEKA THOMPSON
Tribune News Editor
ANGLICAN Archbishop Laish Boyd has warned that the country could “very easily get a black eye” from the international community if it does not handle the illegal immigration issue in a sensitive manner.
The religious leader also recommended that a board or authority be set up to monitor immigration issues. This board would focus on visiting the Carmichael Road Detention Centre, and other shelters housing migrants, as well as investigate claims of mistreatment or discrimination against migrants, among other things.
Bishop Boyd, pictured right, also called for calmer heads to prevail in the immigration debate, saying there is extreme rhetoric on each side of the argument.
His comments to the 116 Session of Synod at the Christ Church Cathedral on Monday night came after international groups hit out at the Minnis administration’s decision to resume deportation of undocumented migrants just weeks after Hurricane Dorian devastated Abaco and Grand Bahama, leaving thousands of people, including migrants, misplaced.
“The topic of migration is an extremely hot topic worldwide, and Hurricane Dorian has pushed the issue to the forefront of our national agenda all too suddenly, once again,” Bishop Boyd told the congregation.
“I now reiterate some sentiments that I expressed in synod charges that I delivered in the past. Our country could very easily get a ‘black eye’ from the international community if we do not make a most valiant effort to get it right. We are indeed a sovereign nation and we expect the world to appreciate this fact. However, the world will ‘mark the manner of our bearing’ in immigration matters, in particular.
“I suggest that a board or authority be set up to monitor our handling of this extremely sensitive matter. This entity could be comprised of representatives appointed from the following: the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce, the Bahamas Christian Council, the official opposition, labour, social services, the Office of the Attorney General, among others. In a post-hurricane environment like now, and in ordinary times, such an entity is a necessity.”
In addition to his previous suggestions, he said the body could address any bad behaviour of shelter residents; hear concerns related to delays in applications for citizenships and permanent residency, in particular and advise the government proactively on areas of potential concern.
“This list is by no means exhaustive, but I want to make the point that, as concerns arise in these areas, the body ought to be able to advise and to speak to the issues. I am convinced that a report produced by such an entity would be considered more credible by the international community in particular than if given by a government official.
“We would all want to ‘get this right’ as we work to secure our borders, as well as to treat humanely the migrants in our midst, whether they are documented or not. The way we treat others who are different from us is a true mark of our Christianity and, in this instance, I am happy to echo the remarks made earlier by the governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
‘In the meantime, I strongly urge that calmer heads prevail in the debate going forward. Some of the rhetoric and extreme language I have heard thus far those supporting the migrants and those who are not, is extremely provocative, and not helpful to the cause of harmony in our country. We must be careful what we say and how we say it. Sensitivity must prevail. Even if what we say may be right, the time and the manner may not be right.”
The Anglican bishop also referenced xenophobic fears that Haitian migrants only take from the country while not contributing to society.
“Bahamians must stop saying that Haitians in particular, come and take while giving little or nothing to the country. This is simply not true. Whenever a person works or raises a family, that person adds value to a country, in return for which he/she receives certain things like well-being, goods and services. It is not an exaggeration to say that if we take the Haitian labour out of our country, the Bahamas would be all the poorer because Haitians are contributing in every area you can think of.
“There are many aspects of the Haitian culture from which we could learn much, for example, the vast majority of them work extremely hard and not hang around on the streets begging like so many others do. Their work ethic is very good.”
He said Haitians also have a “keen sense of family life,” look after their children in the vast majority of cases by attending PTA meetings when many Bahamians do not. He also said many children of Haitian migrants “excel academically because that is a priority in their homes.”
“My brothers and sisters, let us be honest and realistic, and let us find ways to live together in peace and harmony as God, who made us all, would have it,” the bishop said.
Last week, the United Nations Human Rights Council urged the Bahamas to end deportations to Haiti for now, emphasising the vulnerable status migrants affected by Dorian currently occupy. The group has called on the government not to deport people who lack documentation without assessing each person’s case and to implement due process guarantees as the people are “entitled to under international law.”
This came after the government reported that more than 100 Haitians were recently deported to Haiti.
But in a statement released on Saturday, the Ministry of Foreign affairs doubled down on the government’s unwavering position on deportations, 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.