By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
RIGHTS Bahamas is calling for better treatment of distressed and anxious migrants at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre.
The call comes after Haitian migrants began a hunger strike at the facility on Tuesday, demanding they be returned to their country.
In a statement yesterday, Rights Bahamas connected the migrants’ plea to better conditions to what has played out around the world over the years, including the recent death of George Floyd in Minnesota which has sparked tensions over how black people in that country are treated by police.
The group said: “The Bahamas prides itself on being a country where ‘it is better.’ Rights Bahamas asks: for whom is it better? For decades, this country has been a part of dehumanising blacks. We saw it up to the 19th century as thousands of Africans were unwillingly transported to these shores and forced into slavery. When freed these now Afro-Bahamians were marginalised and denied universal rights such as the right to own property, to vote or to live in certain areas. Now we, like our brethren in the United States, are angrily speaking out about those who are racially profiled, police brutalised and killed in America. We are all supporting #blacklivesmatter.
“But, sadly we all know, that Haitian black lives do not matter to many Bahamians.
“Last year, we saw heart wrenching videos of police officers caning young black men and photos of young black women after they had been reportedly attacked by a senior officer during a traffic stop. In 2014, we saw hundreds of lawful residents and citizens detained at the detention centre because they were a little too dark or their surnames a little too French. Now, we see an attempt to vilify Haitian men and women who, as some would argue, were protesting like our neighbours in the United States for their civil rights and right to be treated properly by police.
“Rights Bahamas has seen how our Bahamian people are so quick to defend those in Central and South America being forced to live like animals in the southern United States as a result of US President Donald Trump’s draconian immigration policies. But we say nothing but despicable disparages about Haitians and worse, Haitian Bahamians.”
According to a Royal Bahamas Defence Force statement, detainees at the centre were behaving belligerently until marines de-escalated the situation for a short period of time.
“Some two hours later... a fight between two Haitian nationals erupted,” the RBDF said. “Some of the detainees were able to escape the dormitories, destroying several fences and other minor infrastructure in the process. The situation was contained, the detainees separated and several of them are expected to be charged with destruction of government property as well as to be placed at Her Majesty’s correctional facility.”
Sixty-seven Haitian men and 18 Haitian women represent 56 percent of the detention centre population and some of the detainees were in the facility since February, the RBDF said. Other migrants include people from Colombia, Jamaica, Gambia, Cuba, Sierra Leone and Cameroon.
For his part, Progressive Liberal Party Senator and Chairman Fred Mitchell, the former minister of foreign affairs and immigration, said incidents like the drama at the detention centre happen from time to time.
He said he is seeking clarity about what happened.
“The backstory is these people have been there for some time and the pressure of being in the facility, I’m told they may have had some complaints about the types of food and this led to some social tensions. I gather the Haitian government may not have given the approval for them to come home. I suppose Haiti has its own challenges so this may have led to what happened. This happens from time to time when people are in a facility too long. The detention centre was not meant to be a long-term facility, it was meant to be a holding place for people in a short term solution and usually the Haitian government in my experience turns people around quite quickly so if the reason is that they’ve been there too long it probably has to do with the issues in Haiti and the inability to accommodate the requests on a more speedy basis.”