THE raid on The Farm shanty town in Abaco yesterday was a big operation.
Officers showed up with flatbed trucks, forklifts and a 40ft container. This wasn’t some small venture, this will have come from the top.
So it makes it all the more concerning that there are so many things to criticise about it.
Let’s start with the operation itself. Local reporters were not allowed in while the raid was under way. Why not? If the operation is being handled in a legal manner, why would independent observers not be allowed to monitor the activity?
As the operation unfolded, no official – not police, not an administrator – would give details publicly as to what was going on. Again, why not? What reason for secrecy is there for an operation that can be seen to be taking place?
As officers departed, those trucks were seen departing loaded with items – generators, gas tanks, even a refrigerator.
Immigration Director Clarence Russell dismissed the idea that such clearly visible items were being taken away, saying: “The confiscation of generators does not fall under our purview of duties or responsibilities. A very unlikely story.”
Hours later, a Ministry of Public Works press release said the operation resulted in arrests and “the seizure of suspected stolen goods; and the disconnection of a large quantity of illegally operated generators and gas tanks”.
Not such a very unlikely story after all, Mr Russell. And we’d be intrigued to know why a refrigerator was taken away – was it being illegally operated too? How does one even illegally operate a generator? Where will these items that were seized end up, and how can those who had them taken away challenge such a decision? How would you feel if officers came into your home and took your belongings?
That’s the event itself – but let’s look at the bigger picture. Why are suspected illegal migrants in Abaco?
It’s no mystery – Abaco desperately needs workers to rebuild after the damage from Hurricane Dorian. Where will those workers stay as they come to help to reconstruct people’s homes and businesses? Well, that’s the missing link, isn’t it?
There has been no concerted effort by government to create temporary accommodations for those being hired for reconstruction. There’s no tent city that’s been erected, no empty hotel cleaned out for workers to stay in. Flying in and out every day would be unlikely even without COVID restrictions. So where are they going to stay? Surprise, surprise, shanty towns spring up.
Here’s another thing, though. The bus swoops in and gathers up people detained by immigration, but whose land are these buildings on, and are they making money out of the residents?
So what we saw yesterday is a big operation that doesn’t solve any of the conditions that led to these buildings springing up in the first place.
Until all the dots are joined up and all aspects of the problem are being tackled, all we’re going to see is another shanty town spring up, and another, and another.
And that, Director Russell, is a very likely story indeed.
Well done, Brent Symonette.
The FNM MP is also a former Immigration Minister, so he knows what he’s talking about when he addressed the case of the seven asylum seekers who were released from the Carmichael Road Detention Centre on Wednesday.
The refugees had been locked up for nearly two years before a court challenge forced the government to bring proof by April 7 that it had detained them legally. Instead, the government released them without an explanation.
Mr Symonette says that’s not good enough. And he’s right.
He said: “The government has a responsibility to respond to the courts and someone should give the public an answer as to what happened. That they were released doesn’t prove that they were legitimate asylum seekers, but the Office of the Attorney General is representing taxpayers. This has nothing to do with the Attorney General of a particular administration, it’s just a matter of justice for these people and justice for the Bahamian people. We pay these bills.”
We couldn’t agree more. There should be a full explanation of why these people were deprived of their liberty for so long, and why they were released without a reason or an apology being given.
It is not often that a senior politician will speak up in this fashion against a government run by his own party, and we applaud Mr Symonette for doing so. Now it’s time for the Attorney General’s office to find a voice – and give that explanation that the Bahamian people deserves.