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Insight: Haitians Are Human Beings - Time To End Discrimination

A man stands on the rubble of his home in a shanty town in Abaco after the passage of Hurricane Dorian. Photo: Ramon Espinosa/AP

A man stands on the rubble of his home in a shanty town in Abaco after the passage of Hurricane Dorian. Photo: Ramon Espinosa/AP

By FREDRICK SMITH, QC

HURRICANE Dorian brought the many serious issues regarding shanty towns in Abaco into sharp focus. If ever doubted, it is now crystal clear that the residents of these communities are among the most vulnerable who live in our midst. It is also beyond question that these unfortunates remain victims of a brand of xenophobia so deep-rooted and persistent that not even a tragedy of this magnitude can assuage it.

Hence the government’s no-rebuild order which singles out shanty towns specifically. If such a measure is really necessary in the circumstances, surely it should apply to all affected areas. Why pinpoint these communities in particular? Why does the order not extend to the wealthy foreign homeowners in Bakers Bay, or Bahamians, both black and white, who live in other areas of Abaco? Clearly, it is a case of discrimination, pure and simple.

In general, Family Islanders are resilient, self-reliant – regardless of their background or ethnic origin. They usually know best how to go about reconstructing their lives. It is normal for people to do all they can, using the support of the government, charitable donations and whatever is left of their former homes to try and put some sort of roof over their heads. We can’t blame anyone for wanting that.

Unless and until someone proves otherwise in a court of law, the residents of shanty towns have as much right as anyone else to return to their homes and salvage what they can of their former lives.

The post-hurricane help honeymoon is coming to an end. Hotels and other shelters in Nassau are approaching capacity. If not allowed to rebuild, at least in the short term, where will former shanty town residents go? The tent cities that have been proposed are not a permanent solution, so what is the government’s long term plan?

Surely, the FNM will not use this terrible tragedy to move in with the tractors and illegally bulldoze what is left of these people’s lives – people who, at the very least, have the right to return to collect their property and valuables, and also search for the bodies of the many loved ones who are still missing.

It is easy to use sweeping platitudes and say that if the Mudd and other shanty town communities had been previously demolished, somehow the extent of the tragedy would have been mitigated. Such massive over simplifications ignore the fact that the government would still have faced the vexing problem that confronts it today – what to do with 5,000 people forcibly made homeless overnight – by either state or storm? It also conveniently sweeps under the rug the hateful circumstances that have led us to this point.

Firstly, since 2014, the government has been singularly focused on illegally removing, or at the very least limiting, access to citizenship by people of Haitian descent, particularly those born to Haitian parents. It has been documented in the newspapers, and adjudicated on in the courts. Recourse for injustice is extremely limited, and a one-way ticket to Haiti via the Carmichael Road Detention Centre has been the only certainty for those souls caught inside an inherently biased system.

It is this system, and its enforcement – zealously upheld and protected by the state – that has bred an environment where people would rather stare down a category five hurricane than entrust their safety to officials who have repeatedly targeted them illegally. If found to be true that the government did all it could to evacuate shanty towns (and this remains an open question) then certainly the reason why this had so little impact on these vulnerable communities must be investigated.

Do we truly believe they are too uncivilised to prioritise their safety? Or was it that they made a calculated choice, just as they’ve had to do for generations, to stand before God’s might and beg his mercy rather than place their trust, their freedom and their children’s freedom, in the hands of a hostile and corrupt power structure?

Secondly, make no mistake, this event has shaped The Bahamas, scarred us, irreparably so – but even as we begin again, we must ensure that we do it with open eyes and hearts. The people of the shanty towns in Abaco and throughout The Bahamas are not economic dependents, but drivers of economic activity. They do not burden us, they built us up. Not just in affordable labour, exploited tirelessly, but in administrative fees for “papers”. We feed off their legal troubles and as they gamble with their livelihood; and the house always wins.

Simplistic and uninformed tropes about property rights and immigration wrongs have been rendered meaningless in the face of thousands of decimated structures, spreading as far as the eye can see. Dorian gobbled up entire communities of all stripes, it spared precious few and even now, the country is still reeling, still weeping. It is important not to get lost here, not to allow this tragedy to further strip us of our humanity and capacity to reason fairly.

We must remember that the government surveyed Abaco and determined there was no room to accommodate shanty town residents. We must remember the plan to simply flatten their homes without giving each their legally mandated day in court. We must remember that Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said his government would not spend a dime to develop housing for them. We must acknowledge that these human beings have been denied the simple right to live on the land their ancestors were corralled onto, denied a humane process for resettlement, denied the chance to prove their ownership of land. They are apparently expected to simply disappear – out of sight, out of mind.

Thirdly, the government’s focus must be unwavering at this time. We cannot afford the resuscitation of hateful, discriminatory rhetoric at a time when the entire country stares down climate injustice that has equalised despair and desperation across all classes and ethnicities. We must not slip into lazy, time-worn patterns of “othering” and status wars. We must stop the discrimination, especially against these human beings of Haitian ethnic origin.

We must interrogate why government felt it necessary to mandate no building in shanty town zones but not the wider Marsh Harbour. Was it nothing more than a political cheap shot to gain currency as the government tries to stave off deafening public criticism over its own actions, or lack thereof, concerning its initial response and management of this disaster?

There will be plenty of time to sift through the negativity that always emerges in crisis, to make new political campaigns. But now is not that time. Let us instead commit to removing ambiguity from recent immigration statements, outlining clear steps on how the government plans to identify victims, and establish and protect their rights.

We need leadership on the front lines, not placebos for the xenophobic baseline. Does the government have a plan to humanely address the rights of migrants and their children, and their descendants who have been displaced? The legal fight over their right to claim land in Abaco will not be washed away by the storm, nor will the previous injustices of the government. However, the focus now must be singular and rooted in equity and humanity and love. There is simply too much at stake.

We have experienced a major tragedy; it’s important that public statements reflect a concern for the greater good and do not foster division and hatred. Human rights defenders have been working tirelessly on the front lines assisting government in supporting victims and collecting data on missing people. The work, and the impact it reveals on the most vulnerable, speaks for itself. We must all stand in the gaps created by systemic inequality and lain bare by the ravages of this storm.

The Bahamas remains in deep shock over this, our most visceral taste of climate injustice. The singular focus of the government at this time should be to protect, preserve, and unfortunately in some cases establish, the rights of all within its borders.

The lives and our quality of life of all ought to be tantamount. Any scurrilous statements otherwise only betray their own vicious prejudice.

The residents of shanty towns are not just “Haitians”, they are human beings. If we cannot find it in our hearts to treat them as such, to recognise their urgent vulnerability and intense suffering at this moment, to do what is decent and right, I fear it will leave an indelible stain on our national conscience forever.

Comments

BahamasForBahamians 2 months, 2 weeks ago

The only way to end Haitian discrimination is for Haitians to end their attack on The Bahamas and its resources.

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mandela 2 months, 2 weeks ago

The thing is not discrimination Bahamians are now realizing that if the immigration, the illegal immigration goes on the way it is presently going in 100yrs the Bahamas will be little Haiti, a Bahamian women have on average maybe 3 children, while a Haitian women have on average 10 do the maths, Britain signed a 99yr deal for Hong Kong and thought that was a long time and may never come, well 99yrs have come and gone to date 21yrs, if we don't stop or slow down this invasion the Bahamas in100yrs particularly New Providence will become one big shanty town

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Well_mudda_take_sic 2 months, 2 weeks ago

The Bahamas is already Little Haiti and Haitians in our country will have majority rule in about 10 years if nothing is done. Your mention of 100 years is clearly an effort to lull 'true' Bahamians into a false sense of security. For whatever sinister reason you want 'true' Bahamians to think that the current situation is not nearly as grave and urgent as it really is.

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jamaicaproud 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Fred Smith in as much I don't care for the venom of "real" Bahamians.(A designation which in and of itself is problematic). You need to acknowledge there is an issue. Though it does not matter to then"real real.". They will hate them anyway.... You Mr Smith must acknowledge there is an issue on ground. There is an issue when people do not want to conform to new surroundings. There must be order. While they won't prevent it, having unregulated business and communities will ecsasperbate tragedies like what happened.

While you must defend law.The people Dem don't like the ashans Dem. So stop encourage Dem so Dem can have maybe the filipinos or Chinese. The Jamaicans who are careless enough to go there usually can handle themselves.

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joeblow 2 months, 2 weeks ago

It is people like Fred Smith who contribute to the so called "discrimination" that exists by dishonestly using "loopholes" in the law to advance the agenda of repopulating the Bahamas with Haitians. Many of his arguments are asinine, but that does not stop him and his "human rights" campaign has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Haitians in Dorian!

History has proven the greatest enemy of the Haitian people are Haitians themselves, NOT Bahamians!

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mttyro 2 months, 2 weeks ago

There are aspects of this issue that reasonable folks can disagree upon. However when an entire article is written about shanty towns without addressing the inescapable fact that they exist outside of Bahamian law, one has to conclude that the author is dishonest and is using propaganda to further an agenda that is harmful to the Bahamian people.

The answer to why there is a no-rebuild order on Shanty towns is simple. They are do not follow the law in terms of building codes and permitting and therefore should not exist in the first place. The basis of his argument is that some folks must follow the law while others must be allowed to knowingly break the law without consequences. He presents no argument as to why the Haitian community should receive this special treatment except to say that they have rights, but what he means is that they should have more rights than Bahamians in the Bahamas. He is not advocating that all building codes be abolished, only that one set of peple be allowed to disregard them.

Why, I ask, would a seemingly intelligent QC make such a nonsensical argument and dishonestly try to couch it as a human rights issue? Why will he not admit that the purpose of our building code is to save lives? How can he expect for a county with 400,000 people to open its borders to a country of over 10 million people?

Whatever his reasons, the impact of his agenda in the short term is to recklessly endanger the lives of both Haitians and Bahamians. In the long term, what happens when those that are loyal to the Bahamas and prioritize Bahamian culture, are outnumbered by a magnitude of 3 or even 10? You will inevitably see the erasure of an entire way of life that was built and nurtured through the blood and sweat of many.

Some will say that it is no great loss and that the plight and suffering of Haitians is more important than the comfort and convenience of Bahamians. But they never say that in public do they. They use dishonest propaganda to lull us into accepting the demise of the Bahamian experience without protest.

ALL people, including Bahamians, should have the right of self-determination. An attack on that right must be seen as an attack on the sovereignty and freedom of this nation and should be treated accordingly.

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My2centz 2 months, 2 weeks ago

There is absolutely nothing wrong with Bahamians wanting THE BAHAMAS to maintain a predominately Bahamian identity. And to ensure its resources are used primarily for the benefit of Bahamians. People like Fred Smith and other Haiti-adjacent individuals simply want to use Bahamas for its resources, and what it can provide for Haitians until there is no more. Treating people humanely does not mean one has to fall under the weight of trying to support another. It more accurately reflects crabs in a barrel, and ultimately benefits no one. But what do I care if I'm the crab at the bottom pulling others down?

Intelligent people need to bring ideas, enforce and create laws that benefit the Bahamas, not Haitians. They would also not enflame tensions between two groups. As I see Haiti embroiled in more violent civil unrest, I fear for the future of the Bahamas if the recklessness of Fred Smith and company go unchallenged and uchecked.

A prominent Haitian official confidently claims 200,000 Haitians are in Bahamas, the fact that their birth rate outpaces Bahamians and thousands more come annually...they have all but wiped Bahamians out. They are the real xenophobes. The only step left is to provide amnesty and birthright citizenship to all. This is when they will come out of the wood works. Their actions to discredit Bahamas in the international press is calculated. And just one way of pressing for the acceptance of mass Haitian immigration status. And why Fred Smith is so adamantly opposed to any method that would provide a means of deciphering who is who, in this country.

Just as Haitians can celebrate what is uniquely Haitian, centuries later, Bahamians should have that same opportunity. It doesn't matter if it's not as glorious as the Haitian revolution. Which too many Haitians in 2019, believe they are owed by Bahamas and the world. Despite what Haitians think of their one historic feat, they did not free Bahamian slaves. And Haitians did not "make" the Bahamas what it is. But they will definitely play a major role in its downfall. And I'm sure they'll celebrate their quiet revolution as outsiders, in their new country.

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Godson 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Your topic heading is welcome comment, however, the actual written content strays way of from the topic: "Haitians Are Human Beings - Time To End Discrimination".

For me, Haitians or any other migrant group are not our problem nor is it 'The Problem'.

The Problem is successive government administration's failure to regulate and enforce the law with regards to 'illegal immigrants'.

I too was a refugee in the United kingdom fleeing social and political persecution here in the Bahamas. I submitted to a process that was in place.

So I also knows what it feels like to be a stranger in a foreign land. Back then I chose to end my application for asylum after preparing myself to survive the persecution and deal mentally with the bigots of our society. I got help through the readings of a number of books including Sigmund Freud's.

The successive governments seem to lack the moral fortitude and courage to confront the issue of 'illegal immigration'. This issue of 'illegal immigrants' needs to be courageously dealt with. STOP MAKING THE ISSUE OUT TO BE A HAITIAN ISSUE! It has gone on to become that to the Bahamian populace because of the successive government's failures to do their jobs.

Lastly, I repeat, PERSONS OF HAITIAN NATIONALITY IS NOT A BAHAMIAN PROBLEM. FAILURE TO REGULATE AND ENFORCE THE IMMIGRATION LAWS IS OUR PROBLEM!

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Sickened 2 months, 2 weeks ago

What is your end game Fred? I can't figure it out. You put so much effort into helping illegal immigrants and so little effort into protecting the rights of Bahamians to uphold our laws.

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Islandboy100 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Xenophobia is a fancy word to use when a nation of people invade your country illegally build illegally dumb human waste in the water table so you can't drink the water or use the water they over whelm our public services the very lives of the Bahamian people are at stake I pray the fbi would bring charges against brent symanett Perry Christy Hubert Ingram And the holloweskoss and put them in prison for 200 years a person

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JackArawak 2 months, 2 weeks ago

My biggest problem in The Bahamas is the racial prejudice and persecution that been rained down on me by the Bahamian government and the civil service. I'm white. Y'all need to accept the fact that "Haitians" are going to be in The Bahamas forever. The best you can hope for is a decent government.....good luck and God help us all

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