EDITOR, The Tribune.
Please allow me a space in your column to share with you and your readers what I consider a very serious emerging issue that has already impacted residents of The Bahamas and may have devastating effects if not addressed.
The impact of Hurricane Dorian and recent passage of Hurricane Isaias has brought this issue to the fore. This issue is a lacuna in international humanitarian law that impacts Internally Displaced People (IDPs), who are forced to migrate out of their home country following events like a natural disaster. Unlike asylum seekers, refugees or migrants, international organisations like UNHCR have no jurisdiction to provide assistance to IDPs who fall within this “unique category”.
My research shows however, that UNHCR has been assisting and advocating to enlarge its mandate to include this “unique category”. What can The Bahamas do to help IDPs in this “unique category”?
According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) thematic report, Displacement in Paradise, about 5,000 people in The Bahamas were forcibly displaced following Hurricane Dorian in September, 2019.
Although these people became IDPs, most of them were able to be transported to other islands within The Bahamas or to other locations on the island of their home.
They were categorised as IDPs because they were forced to move from their homes but remained within the territory of their home country under the jurisdiction of the Government.
For your general information, in 2019, there were 45.7 million IDPs globally (IDMC 2019).
Following the passage of Hurricane Dorian about 600–700 people who were forcibly displaced in The Bahamas were temporarily accepted into the United States.
These IDPs were in a tentative situation because of the lacuna in international humanitarian law mentioned earlier. With all of that said, what should The Bahamas do to adequately support IDPs following displacements caused by future natural disasters?
In my view, Bahamas Government policymakers and civil society organisations should include in their natural disaster recovery plans, the possibility of IDPs being forced to migrate to neighbouring countries.
As such, this issue should form part of The Bahamas’ Foreign Policy.
Furthermore, The Bahamas’ Government and civil society organisations should take deliberate and immediate action to build the necessary capacity in humanitarian aid and disaster management to assist and support current and future IDPs. These will be excellent ways to prepare to help ourselves.
KEAN A SMITH
August 23, 2020.