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Johnson: Stop This Anti-Haitian Rhetoric

Financial Services, Trade and Industry and Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson.

Financial Services, Trade and Industry and Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson.

By NICO SCAVELLA

Tribune Staff Reporter

nscavella@tribunemedia.net

IMMIGRATION Minister Elsworth Johnson has hit out at the burgeoning wave of anti-Haitian rhetoric in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, asserting that much of the information being circulated is “downright wrong” and not condoned by the Minnis administration.

Mr Johnson, in an interview with The Tribune, said the government disavows any “hate messages” towards members of the Haitian community, and that any person found “exhibiting the intention to cause harm or hurt to anybody will be dealt with in accordance with the law.”

However, Mr Johnson warned against the misinterpretation of persons defending the Bahamas’ immigration laws as anti-Haitian rhetoric, or “conflating” them to the level of hate speech.

“…If someone says to you that this is the way to build, this is the way to come and leave the country, I don’t know that that constitutes hate,” he said. “It’s a way to say it, and you must say it properly because we invite more than seven million people here every year. So we must be very careful. But in terms of if someone states what the law is, I don’t know that you can say that that is hate against somebody.”

Mr Johnson’s comments come as some Bahamians have taken to social media to express their apprehension and anxiety with the displacement of the thousands of residents of the shanty town communities in Abaco—some of whom are feared to be in the country illegally—in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.

In one voice note circulated on WhatsApp shortly after Dorian passed, a woman speaks about information she received from someone named “Travis” about his and a group of other people’s experiences on the Abaco post-hurricane. Starting the voice note with what she said were Travis’ words - “The n*s have taken over” - the woman explains how Travis told her that the island desperately needed some “law and order” and that he would probably have to “shoot people dead” to survive if the alleged looting didn’t stop.

Later on in the voice note, the woman alleged a woman called her from Abaco and told her how they managed to make it to a particular location, but encountered Haitians with “guns and knives and crowbars” who forced them to retreat back to Sunrise Bay.

In response to claims like the ones the woman made, various Bahamians took to social media to vent their disdain for such actions and express macabre ways to deal with the problem.

Two of the voice notes were referred to in a video posted by Jamaican dancehall musician ‘Mr Vegas’ in a video on his official Facebook page, titled: “The hatred for our Haitian brothers and sisters is real!”

Mr Vegas has since drawn the ire of hundreds of Bahamians, who have taken to his social media page to chastise him for making the post.

Yesterday, Mr Johnson told The Tribune he has personally seen certain social media posts about how Haitians are being treated post-hurricane, claims he said were “totally dishonest”.

“I saw a post where it’s alleged that persons were being burnt alive in the Bahamas,” he said. “Total lies. My duties after the hurricane was to go to all the shelters and speak with all the shelter managers and let them know that listen, while persons are here receiving social assistance, no issue about their origin or immigration status should be raised. Because some persons were injured, some persons were suffering psychological damage. You have to give those types of services to those persons.

“…I’ve seen statements, for instance I’ve seen a statement made by a young man that alleged that the (Seventh-day Adventist) church was purporting acts against Haitian nationals, which was totally false. I was there that night when the persons came. I spoke to them, I was there when they took the locks off and prepared the building.”

He added: “The policy of the government of the Bahamas and the people of the Bahamas in keeping with the laws of the Bahamas or ‘the rule of law’ and international norms, is that all persons who suffered the ravages of Hurricane Dorian are to receive healthcare, social welfare, not having regard to their place of origin, religion, race, sex, political opinion and immigration status. And the rule of law in the Bahamas has not been suspended, and so the law has to be applied.

“…Any hate messages or whatever have you is not condoned by the government of the Bahamas. But I can tell you there’s some information that’s going about that’s dead wrong. Totally dishonest. And I think we just have to love each other.”

Last week, a group of Andros residents from Staniard Creek blocked a bridge leading to Kamalame Cay in an attempt to prevent some Haitian nationals from going to work on Thursday.

Superintendent Ricardo Richardson, the officer-in-charge on the island, said the residents claimed the workers were undocumented, which was why they prohibited them from passing. Supt Richardson said there was no violence and police ordered the group to unblock the bridge.

A meeting was then held at 11am with several officials, including immigration officers who conducted due diligence, but found no merit in the claims. Supt Richardson said he was given the assurance of residents that these actions would not be repeated.

Prior to that, and immediately after the storm’s passage, a photo was circulated across various social media platforms portraying what was alleged to be several Abaconian men, three of whom were armed with high powered weapons, standing in front of several trucks parked across an unspecified road in a bid to prevent looters from passing.

Yesterday, Mr Johnson denounced such actions, and said any attempt at enforcing law and order should be made by the proper authorities.

“There are trained persons by way of law, immigration officers, police officers, customs officers, who enforce the immigration laws, rules and regulations. Leave that to those persons,” he said. “Just like the Police Act gives the police officers certain powers or the customs act gives customs officers certain powers, if you’re not authorised under law to do certain things you have no authority to do it. So you should leave that to the persons in authority.”

Comments

Sickened 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Let's be clear it's not purely anti-hatian rhetoric - it's anti-illegal-immigrants rhetoric, first and foremost. We don't want illegal immigrants here no matter where they are from. It just so happens that the VAST majority of illegal immigrants in the Bahamas are from Haiti.

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Jeff242 1 month, 3 weeks ago

To be cleared the whole world by now know about our xenophobia...yall dont have an anti illegal-immigrants because every Haitian y'all see or names y'all hear is automatically illegal ....so the anti Haitians start from the government on top no matter how nice the words seem in the news to the people on the bottom and Neil Ellis on the pulpit, it's part of the Bahamian Experience.. #my5cents

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My2centz 1 month, 3 weeks ago

There are too many logical arguments by intelligent, non xenophobic individuals to always use such a ridiculous and childish argument to silence useful discussion. How is one to respond? With an equally outlandish quip like, "da's ya ma"? How about the government listen to the concerns of the people who elected them to serve instead? But it seems they're doing the opposite.

Ensuring the makers of those vile and threatening voice notes are identified and prosecuted is one thing. Trying to control free speech is absurd, and out of line. Meanwhile, Haitians are free to bad mouth the Bahamas all over international media without reprimand. Does that sound like an anti Haitian government to you?

I've read first hand accounts of individuals in Abaco of Haitians gone wild, and this note being in response to that. I've seen videos of burnt bodies and claims Bahamians are killing Haitians. And foreigners taking to social media with matter of fact tones that it is happening. It's not the frustrated and angry words of Bahamians that make them believe this. Its the reckless use of "xenophobia" by silly people who refuse to acknowledge the real issues that created the Haitian stigma.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 1 month, 3 weeks ago

What a bumbling fumbling buffoon we have as Immigration Minister. Elsworth Johnson is trying to push onto the Bahamian people the serious problems that have developed because of the failure of successive governments, including our current government, to vigorously and aggressively enforce our country's immigration laws.

In fact, past and current corrupt senior politicians and equally corrupt senior immigration officials have for many years greatly contributed to our present illegal alien problems for either wrongful political or financial gain. Elsworth needs to hold his tongue and immediately start doing what's expected of him by the Bahamian people, i.e. vigorously and aggressively enforce our immigration laws. He needs stop trying to lay blame on the Bahamian people for all of the social unrest tied to our illegal alien problems and also stop making lame excuses for not overseeing an effective program of rounding up and repatriating illegal aliens back to their home countries. Our nation is under siege by an invasion of illegal immigrants and the sooner he recognizes that the better.

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joeblow 1 month, 3 weeks ago

I would think the idiots in government might want to listen to the voices of the people who elected them to serve! Listen to WHY people are concerned, determine if their complaints are valid and implement a plan to address those concerns. Seems like a more reasonable plan than just telling people to shut up!

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SP 1 month, 3 weeks ago

The jackasses elected as the government has NEVER EVER listened to the voices of the people to determine anything whatsoever, that is why we the people have to vote them out every 5 years!

Had the instant geniuses we elected over the decades listened to the people, we wouldn't have this illegal Haitian problem in the first place.

This group is obviously headed for cut-hip at the polls in 2022. We CANNOT bring the PLP back so we need to change direction with two new parties.

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BahamaPundit 1 month, 3 weeks ago

I agree completely. Call us racist or xenophobic if you wish. All we want to do is survive and Haitians pose a serious threat to the economic survival of our country. We are not afraid of you calling us haters. We see with our own eyes that our country is being invaded. If the FNM can't see it, then that's on them. We will proudly be called the names you call us, if it means addressing the issues and saving our country. We already know the battle is lost. We already know the invaders have succeeded. We know that this country will in the next decade be a Haitian governed country. Nothing you can call us is worse than knowing we are transforming into a Hatian territory.

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TalRussell 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Weird how ready the 35 elected comrades are so prepared take actions against populaces, including ordering the complete evacuation of all residents off the islands and cays the Abaco's but backed down when a single justice, ruled not be turning off lights several hundred shantytowns residents hooked up receive electricity - when power companies have in fact discounted the electricity supply for non-payment to thousands residential and business customers .... Since when can a judge,overrule the populaces elected government from enforcing blatant building code, health and fire violations. Should've, could've told that misguiding in law judge and the King's Counsel" to go stuff their ruling where colony's sunshine don't shine .... To say that the absence shantytown building codes did not contribute to the hurricane's destruction and mounting death toll of the shantytowns, is an outright lie ...

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Cas0072 1 month, 3 weeks ago

It doesn't matter what is said, any statement that is not pro Haitian/pro illegal immigrants is called xenophobic. I am glad he at least distinguished the difference, because illegal immigrant enablers don't seem to know this. Or so they pretend. Now I wonder if the DR is half as bad as they say, or the victims of a Haitian smear campaign like they are attempting now with the fake videos they are putting out there.

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