By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
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.”