By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
THE government has no intention of granting provisional asylum to undocumented migrants nor does it plan to meet with Haitian officials at this stage over concerns that have emanated in the wake of Hurricane Dorian.
This is according to Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson yesterday, who maintained that while asylum will not be given, the government was committed to assisting all victims affected by Hurricane Dorian, regardless of origin or status.
However, he said, these people will be the only ones immune at this time from apprehension and repatriation, as officials continue to monitor the country's borders and conduct operations in the other unaffected islands.
Mr Johnson further warned that people found harbouring undocumented migrants would face the law. Last week, the government announced that apprehension exercises had been suspended in Abaco and Grand Bahama, but it is unclear how long this will remain the status quo.
Meanwhile, Labour Minister Dion Foulkes, who heads the Shanty Town Action Task Force, noted the poor conditions of these unregulated communities made them dangerous for inhabiting.
Given the government's intention to completely eradicate such places and two missed deadlines, Mr Johnson said it was certainly the aim not to allow homes to be reconstructed in those areas. The Minnis administration had intended to eradicate shanty towns in New Providence by last July and those in Abaco on a deadline of July 31, 2019.
"We were extraordinarily careful in crafting our statement in regard to immigration having regard to the fact that we are now facing a humanitarian crisis," Mr Johnson told reporters outside Cabinet yesterday. "The government has taken the decision that immigration policies or enforcement measures are suspended forthwith in the affected areas. Why we were extremely careful is because the notice sent out does not include islands like Inagua, Cat Island and San Salvador, Long Island and what have you.
"We still have the constitutional right to safeguard our borders and we still appreciate the fact that there are persons who may be in those other islands who may not have a right to be here and so the Immigration Department has strict instructions to enforce in the outer islands.
"But most certainly for anybody that is affected or comes out of those affected islands they have nothing to worry about. The government is encouraging, as you have seen all and sundry regardless of origin (or) immigration status to take advantage of social services, the shelters (and) the health care.
"As we have always been doing in The Bahamas, anybody in The Bahamas can get education, anybody can get healthcare, but even more so in these circumstances.
"You've seen an excellent example by the international community, our brothers and sisters who have come in from America, the Dutch, Trinidad and Tobago (and) Jamaica who are providing service without regard to origin or immigration status.
"You have seen boats left Abaco and Freeport and some persons who are undocumented are allowed to get on those boats before Bahamians and everybody is cooperating in an orderly manner.
"So for those areas affected no, but for those unaffected, the immigration officers know what they ought to do."
On Monday, Haitian Chargé d'Affaires Dorval Darlier said he wanted the Bahamas government to grant temporary asylum to undocumented migrants affected by Hurricane Dorian.
This, he asserted, was the best way to assist devastated Haitians living in Grand Bahama and Abaco to rebuild their lives after losing everything to Dorian's destruction.
To this, Mr Johnson said: "I'm hearing something about this asylum. At this time there has been no instructions given to me by the most honourable prime minister and his Cabinet that any asylum would be given to anybody.
"We know that there are a number of persons who ought not be here and for those unaffected areas, know that we will be out there.
"I have said to the director of immigration I have a serious concern that when sometimes we do these enforcement measures that nobody is being arrested for harbouring. So I wanted to say to the Bahamian public I don't want anybody to be calling me if you're found harbouring anybody. That will assist us greatly the $6,000 you'll have to pay.
"I have gone to almost all of the shelters. I have given out all of my personal numbers, 376-7723 or 376-7599, and if anybody comes in raising or if you even think they have the intention to raise the issue of someone's immigration status call me directly and I have strict instructions from the prime minister to deal with that post haste."
Asked if there were plans to meet with Haitian officials, Mr Johnson said: "We're not going to meet at this stage. That's a decision for the prime minister. My responsibility and the instructions that has been given to me, which is in keeping with the law, is that you aren't to take regard ever as the Constitution has indicated for origin and immigration status and we're doing that in these matters.
"Nobody will be treated better than anybody."