Financial Services, Trade and Industry and Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson.
By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
UNDOCUMENTED migrants “need not fear” deportation from the government when submitting DNA samples to assist with identifying Hurricane Dorian victims, Immigration Minister Ellsworth Johnson said yesterday.
Saying all human life in the Bahamas “is precious”, the minister said the government is committed to helping storm victims find the remains of their missing family members and get closure from the September 2019 ordeal.
“We’re a civilised country and we want to identify persons,” he told reporters ahead of a Cabinet meeting yesterday. “All life in the Bahamas is precious and that’s why we describe it as one having the sanctity of life.
“Everybody is entitled to that and we’re prepared to protect that, but I want to reassure anybody in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas that if they think that there’s a relative who is here. . .feel free to come forth.
“And so, I want to say to persons that they need not fear (deportation).”
This comes after officials revealed on Sunday that only three of the 55 buried Dorian victims laid to rest on Friday have been identified by DNA thus far. Assistant Commissioner of Police Solomon Cash also noted during a press conference on Sunday that up to that point, 33 people have been reported as missing since Hurricane Dorian.
While acknowledging the number of missing people does not correspond to the number of recovered Dorian victims, ACP Cash said there was a need for more victims to come forward and provide information on those who have not been seen since the storm. However, there have been concerns that some undocumented migrants in the Haitian community who may have lost loved ones may be reluctant to contact authorities and even submit DNA samples for fear of being deported.
Maintaining that victims need not have such fears, Mr Johnson said the government’s handling of the immigration situation in the wake of Hurricane Dorian can attest to the fact that officials are respectful of each individual’s human rights.
“I want to alert persons who are here in the Bahamas who may not be naturalised, even just after Hurricane Dorian, the government put out a statement, saying that we would be guided by mostly the Constitution, international best practices and foremost among them — the universal declaration of human rights,” he said.
“You can see how we conducted ourselves just after the hurricane despite legal status, everybody was provided with assistance. Persons were put into shelter and we did not take (stock) of citizenship or nationality,” he said.
“And so healthcare, food and social services were provided and so we went through the process even in the shelters to gather the names, social services did a phenomenal job and so it’s somewhat concerning that persons are saying they’re concerned now to come ahead and to identify their relatives when some of the same persons are coming ahead and utilising the social services structure.
“And so, I want to say to persons that they need not fear that.”
He urged individuals to give blood and other samples of their DNA to assist with identifying those who were buried in Friday’s ceremony.