By LEANDRA ROLLE
IMMIGRATION Minister Elsworth Johnson said yesterday immigration officials will “extract” undocumented migrants living in shelters throughout New Providence once those facilities have been deactivated.
However, he insisted operations carried out by the Department of Immigration in dealing with the issue will be conducted in a “humane” manner. “All I’ll say about the shelters is that they will not be used to circumvent the law,” he told reporters outside Cabinet yesterday.
“We now know who is in the shelters. We now know who is documented. We now know who are undocumented and so as those shelters are closing, we in a humane, courteous and legal way, we will extract those persons.”
His comments came after Minister of Social Services Frankie Campbell announced the shelter at Kendal GL Isaacs Gymnasium will be closed by the end of this month.
It is not clear when the other remaining shelter — Bahamas Academy — will be deactivated. However, Mr Campbell has said it will be closed “in the shortest time possible”.
“We’ve continued to work to assist persons to move in with family members, to transition into rental units that we were assisting with and other persons to go back to their original islands,” said Mr Campbell.
“... My hope is that the work we’re doing in assisting persons with rental and the work that is being done with sister agencies in terms of transitional homes and domes in the various islands, will enable us in the shortest possible time to also deactivate Bahamas Academy.”
The gym has been housing storm victims since Hurricane Dorian displaced thousands of residents from Abaco and Grand Bahama.
However, in recent weeks, many have been calling on the government to close the temporary housing sites and clear out the gym of undocumented immigrants.
While Mr Johnson vowed to address the matter, he was clear that it will be done “a humane, courteous and legal way.”
In the meantime, Mr Johnson said officials will be focusing its efforts in Andros as the Department of Immigration continues a joint operation on the island.
“Those type of operations will be ongoing and not just in Nassau, but in any of the islands,” he told reporters yesterday.
“…When our intelligence say to us that there are persons who might be anywhere in the Bahamas, we mount an effort to go and see how best we can deal with the situation in a humane matter.
“…But in the operation, it’s not always about migrants and I always say that when we meet migrants, we have to go in protection mode. We have to protect them because they’re vulnerable and persons sometimes attempt to abuse vulnerable people.”
Mr Johnson was also clear that anyone found harbouring undocumented migrants on Andros will also have to face the consequences.
“We have not brought anybody to custody for harbouring. . .persons, they just do not miraculously appear in the Bahamas. It’s a multimillion-dollar industry,” he said.
“And so, I’m speaking with the Immigration Department because we know that there are persons who are giving shelter and we are going to deal with those individuals.
“…And I want to say to the Immigration Department, we need more persons to be apprehended especially when they can’t give a reasonable account as to why they have persons living with them or working for them. And I want to say to Bahamians, that the offence for trafficking is still $10,000 or five years imprisonment.”
Similar warnings have also been expressed by Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis, who also recently vowed to clamp down on the problem in a humane manner.
Andros has come into focus as the government seeks to lift a Supreme Court injunction blocking the demolition of shanty towns around the country and address immigration issues related to their existence.
Former Chief Councillor Peter Douglas, 60, claimed recently in an affidavit that there are 900 people living in three shanty towns across North Andros.
And in a recent statement about the discovery of E coli in water on the island, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries said it was examining whether Northern Andros’ groundwater was contaminated by unregulated shantytown communities.
“The Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resource has been actively working to determine whether any agricultural crown land has been encroached upon by the migrant community of North Andros or Bahamians and will do everything under the law to ensure that if such encroachment has occurred, it is brought to an end,” the ministry said recently.