Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis and Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson.
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said undocumented immigrants affected by Hurricane Dorian face no protections and will be subject to the country’s laws of apprehension and deportation.
“Our laws will be followed, full-stop,” he told The Tribune. “We have laws and they will be followed and adhered to. Those who have broken the law will be dealt with according to the law.”
The government had suspended apprehension and deportation exercises in areas affected by Hurricane Dorian in the immediate aftermath of the storm, but officials yesterday suggested that undocumented people displaced by the storm cannot expect to go about their lives as if they are protected from repatriation permanently. Many displaced residents, especially undocumented ones, are believed to be staying in shelters on New Providence.
Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson said the suspension of repatriation exercises in Grand Bahama and Abaco was to to ensure that everyone, regardless of status, received social assistance and healthcare in keeping with international norms. Now, he said, undocumented immigrants must ensure that they have at least applied for legal status in order to escape deportation.
“Now that we are in the restoration and rebuilding phase, we are enforcing our laws,” Mr Johnson said. “Dorian did not give persons amnesty. If you were without status before the storm, you remain without proper status after the storm. If you don’t have your stuff, look at what the law requires. The laws will be applied in a way that maintains the dignity of people. We are in the rebuilding phase in Abaco and businesses must also ensure that the persons they hire are legal.”
Dr Minnis said Cabinet will further discuss immigration matters today.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a ceremony at Government House, he also said he still has confidence in the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). Under the Disaster Preparedness and Response Act, NEMA is responsible for coordinating and implementing the general policy of the government with respect to “mitigation of, preparedness for, response and recovery from emergencies and disasters in the Bahamas,” all of which now characterises the role of the new Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, Recovery and Reconstruction.
Asked if he has confidence in NEMA’s leadership, Dr Minnis said: “I have confidence in NEMA. You must remember, this is a storm that was never ever seen before so they had to work with what they had under the conditions that were presented to them.”
According to people familiar with his thinking, the confidence of former Prime Minister Perry Christie in NEMA’s head, Captain Stephen Russell, was shaken in the aftermath of Hurricane Joaquin, a storm that devastated central and southern islands in 2015. Even though he valued Mr Russell’s ties to regional organisations like the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), Mr Christie believed NEMA took too long to mobilise, according to two sources who spoke to The Tribune on the condition of anonymity. In the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, local and international criticism has centred on the pace of mobilisation of local resources.
Iram Lewis, the newly minted state minister, declined yesterday to criticise NEMA, saying the organisation will be playing an important role under his ministry.
“I don’t want to get into the name blaming, I would never criticise NEMA, because, like the rest of the country, we’ve never faced this level of superstorm before,” he said. “NEMA will be a way of reinforcing what I’m doing. Ongoing training is certainly necessary (at NEMA). Insofar as what NEMA has to do, nothing in particular, but the whole ministry, we have to focus to see how we can work hand in glove to ensure that if we go through another serious storm like this, that we will be prepared.”