PLP deputy leader Chester Cooper. Photo: Terrel W Carey Sr/Tribune Staff
By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
PROGRESSIVE Liberal Party deputy leader Chester Cooper yesterday cautioned the government to not allow some 29 undocumented migrants to be transported to Ragged Island, saying the move could potentially expose residents there to the novel coronavirus.
Making a strong plea inside Parliament yesterday, the Exuma and Ragged Island MP called on the government to “reverse” its plan on the transport of those migrants to the island. Calling the move a “ridiculous plan”, he claimed the island, which is still recovering from Hurricane Irma in 2017, is not prepared to handle a possible COVID-19 outbreak due to the lack of medical resources there.
He said: “Let me remind this Parliament that today despite me raising the red flag on this issue since Irma in 2017, there is still no medical facility, there is still no nurse and there is still no doctor on the island of Ragged Island.
“And if it is the intention to land temporarily and then deport, this is a terrible place from which to do it because the logistics are horrible. There is no bus, there is no van, there are no proper facilities at the defence force base at Gunpoint.
“This is a ridiculous plan and the people of Ragged Island are rightfully concerned and outraged…I protest it in the strongest possible terms and I ask the government to reverse the plan forthwith because the people of Ragged Island gone start wondering why you despise them so?”
His comments come after about 20 Haitian migrants were transported to Inagua last week.
Residents there staged a protest on the island in response to the move, raising concerns about the island’s COVID-19 level of preparedness should a case arise on the island.
Several Family Islands, including Abaco, Cat Island and the Berry Islands recorded their first COVID-19 cases this week after months of being essentially COVID-19 free. The move has left many islands with no COVID-19 cases on guard and fearful of a possible spread.
Speaking to reporters outside Parliament, Foreign Affairs Minister Darren Henfield maintained that the migrants will be held by officials on Ragged Island only “for a brief period of time” until they can be repatriated to Haiti.
He said: “The defence force and immigration conducted a similar exercise with Inagua last week where we held several detainees at the base at Inagua before they were immediately repatriated to Haiti.”
As it relates to the lack of resources on the island to handle a possible COVID-19 case, the minister said the officials will not hesitate to do what’s necessary to respond to any major health threats should one arise.
“The defence force personnel, they have a sick bay where they are able to manage these circumstances,” he noted.
“We didn’t see it as an immediate concern, but we always have the option that if there is a health crisis that we need to address immediately, to use an airplane or to do what is necessary to get people the help that they need.”