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FRONT PORCH: No hiding from the shameful vitriol directed at those who would risk everything for a better life

COFFINS at a funeral service in 2019 for 22 Haitian nationals who lost their lives at sea.

COFFINS at a funeral service in 2019 for 22 Haitian nationals who lost their lives at sea.

THERE is a regional and global context to the approximately 1,000 Haitian migrants who recently landed in Inagua. There may also be a domestic and political back story. We are experiencing national and global fractures from COVID-19 which are turning into deep economic, social and political fissures.

Just as we do not yet more fully appreciate long-term COVID, we are still coming to a realization of the long-term effects of the pandemic on The Bahamas and the global commons. Last year, Henry Kissinger offered an analysis of the geopolitical impact of the pandemic:

“When the COVID-19 pandemic is over, many countries’ institutions will be perceived as having failed… Whether this judgment is objectively fair is irrelevant. The reality is the world will never be the same after the coronavirus. To argue now about the past only makes it harder to do what has to be done.

“Leaders are dealing with the crisis on a largely national basis, but the virus’ society-dissolving effects do not recognize borders. While the assault on human health will – hopefully – be temporary, the political and economic upheaval it has unleashed could last for generations.”

In reportage from across the Americas, a Wall Street Journal team published a story on September 22, detailing the harrowing stories of why thousands of Haitian migrants risked their lives to get to the Texas-Mexico border in the past few weeks to reach the United States.

Many migrants, deeply fearful of returning to Haiti because of the violence and poverty in our regional neighbour have stated emphatically that they would prefer to die than return to Haiti.

The Journal observed that it “reflects a stark change in migration patterns to the US, driven by COVID-19” and that “in Panama, Haitian migration drove a record 70,000 undocumented migrants from January through August, more than the previous three years combined, according to government figures.”

Some of the migrants who went to the US via South and Central America fled after the further instability triggered by the assassination in July of President Jovenel Moïse. Haiti is in a state of near anarchy, with rival gangs holding sway over swathes of the country.

The great majority of those who showed up in Del Rio, Texas, originally left Haiti in the years following the catastrophic 2010 earthquake which left approximately 200,000 or more people dead. Of a population of approximately 10 million, nearly one-and-a-half million people were left homeless.

The already dire living conditions in Haiti worsened after the earthquake. Because Haiti is practically a failed state with weak institutions, there was never really much reconstruction after the 2010 calamity. Most Haitians live on five dollars a day, with some living on less.

Much of the aid promised for reconstruction never materialized. Some aid was siphoned both by corruption on the part of Haitian officials and the practices of various international aid groups.

Joseph Jr Cloremus is a researcher in Haiti. He remembers that after the 2010 earthquake: “Outside, corpses littered the streets of the capital.”

Last year, 10 years after the disaster, Cloremus, along with two others, wrote a story on recovery efforts. They noted that despite billions spent, Haiti has not recovered. Further, international funds often end up being repatriated to donor countries.

Because of a weak government, a series of unstable administrations and the dysfunction and lack of coordination by international aid agencies, the country has still not recovered. One compelling conclusion: international partners “failed to meet a humanitarian challenge of such magnitude.”

Many Haitians decided to migrate to Chile and Brazil after 2010, countries with more “lenient immigration rules” and which had more liberal governments at the time. Both are now led by more conservative governments, less sympathetic to Haitian refugees.

As middle-income countries suffering intensely from the social, economic and public health shocks from the pandemic, migrants are even less welcome now.

When COVID-19 struck, the Haitian migrants in those countries and other republics, who were at the lower rungs of the various economies, were even more vulnerable to the social and economic effects of the pandemic.

The Journal reported the observation of the chief of Panama’s migration agency, Samira Gozaine: “We can’t answer why a citizen of Haiti living in these countries would decide to sell all his belongings and start such a dangerous trek north with no documents, but this is what’s happening.”

Some 26 million jobs have been lost in Latin America and the Caribbean because of the pandemic. As noted in The Journal, the International Monetary Fund reported the region “as a whole suffered the world’s steepest economic contraction last year, and the region’s biggest decline since the Great Depression.”

There are likely a number of reasons for the evolving migration pattern, including the dire economic fallout from the pandemic in the countries in which they originally found refuge, a recovering and potentially booming US economy, and the sense that President Joseph Biden’s administration would be more welcoming. A number of migrants also have family ties in the US.

The treacherous journey to the United States “has involved violent attacks, robberies in the countries that they pass through, sometimes sexual violence, attacks by gangs.”

The migrants traversing Central America and Mexico have faced imprisonment, an inability to make a living, the loss of possessions, daily indignities, overwhelming fear and constant anxiety.

In Haiti, the misery continues to compound because of natural disasters like the more recent 7.2 earthquake which hit the country on August 14 and the ironically named Tropical Storm Grace, which hampered earthquake rescue efforts.

Nearly 2,200 people died with approximately 12,000 injured after the recent earthquake. But many thousands may have lost their homes and many are still in need of assistance. UNICEF estimated that half a million children have been affected.

Moral imagination includes deep empathy, an attitude and consciousness to understand and stand in solidarity with others, especially those who suffer from circumstances and injustices beyond their control.

Imagine if New Providence was devastated by Hurricane Dorian, with most of our central government, critical infrastructure and much of our tourism facilities destroyed or damaged. How would we have coped?

As noted by the Inter-American Development Bank: “The estimated damages and losses from [Dorian] amount to $3.4 billion (IDB, 2019), a number equivalent to a quarter of the country’s GDP.” The devastation from Dorian was restricted to Abaco, the Abaco Cays and Grand Bahama.

Had the monster storm hit New Providence, the devastation and consequences would have been far worse. We would have clamoured for international assistance. Quite a number would have tried to flee to the United States and other jurisdictions.

What would become of the residents of Nassau if we became climate refugees after losing loved ones and homes because of the effects of climate change? Perhaps we will understand the sting of our own xenophobia, prejudice and venom when we are demonized and reviled in the very manner some of us are doing unto others.

It is depressing how smug, self-absorbed and arrogant some of the residents of New Providence were after Dorian, including those who were demanding pay increases despite the fresh devastation from the most powerful hurricane ever to strike The Bahamas. There is a pernicious and vulgar selfishness and disregard for others by many in our society.

We cannot sustain unchecked immigration to The Bahamas. There must be orderly immigration and the protection of our country’s borders. But we can still be humane in understanding the plight of Haiti and those risking their lives to flee the desperation and sense of hopelessness in that unfortunate country.

What is shameful is the vitriolic language directed at Haitians including from weekly churchgoers who claim to be Christian, but who are often seething with xenophobic puss and bile, with little humanity or empathy for those who would risk everything for a better life.

It is a difficult task for governments to balance a respect for migrants and human rights. Political leaders need to be careful with their statements, which might easily trigger a reaction in Haiti. Why were there so many migrants rushing to the country almost immediately after the recent general election?

There is a conceit and ignorance by many Bahamians of the global and regional circumstances in which we find ourselves, including the deep-seated problems in Haiti and the ongoing and upcoming shocks from the pandemic, both of which are going to continue to shatter our isolationism and narrow worldviews.

The arrival of more migrants to The Bahamas and the economic reckoning from COVID-19 both portend even more difficult days ahead for the country, posing very hard choices for all of us, including our capacity for empathy and decency.

Comments

GodSpeed 1 year, 2 months ago

Why don't all you virtuous phonies legally adopt the Haitians and take care of all their needs since you supposedly care so much? Take a Haitian family into your home and pay for everything they need. Their health care, food, education etc. Take them into your homes and live with them in tolerance of all their backwardness and let them be your dependents. Sponsor them you hypocrites. Phonies like Fred Smith, should take in those 1000 Haitians, send them out Lyford Cay or whatever wealthy enclave he lives in, let them live in your yard.

But no, you liars and fakes would never ever do that will you? Instead you rather type your drivel about empathy so you feel good about yourself based on air. What you really want is for other people to pay for them who want nothing to do with your compassion nonsense. You'd rather the most vulnerable Bahamians live around them, put up with them and compete with them for work. You want others to pay the price for your idiotic delusions while you sit far away from the stench.

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jus2cents 1 year, 2 months ago

Or you could stop the refugees where they started and Help them get on their feet in Haiti. They need- Jobs- Create employment & encourage over sea investors. Education- Help build the facilities & staff them with foreign teachers. Infrastructure- Put bids out to invest in roads, hospitals, power stations. You could fix a lot in 10 years. This would all probably cost the same, or less than the US Government is spending on border 'control' now.

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benniesun 1 year, 2 months ago

@GodSpeed Great rebuttal. 99.9% of those wealthy enclave dwellers are psychopaths and they try very hard to trick us by mimicking true human emotions.

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themessenger 1 year, 2 months ago

The main reason that "vulnerable" Bahamians have to live at the same level and compete with immigrants for work is clear. We have been churning out successive generations of poorly educated people with no skills, no ambition, no guidance and no realistic expectation of what it means to go to work!

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FrustratedBusinessman 1 year, 2 months ago

I pity their situation, but what can we do? We cannot have them immigrating here at all, orderly or disorderly. Have you seen the cost of rent in Nassau? Where are you going to find housing for them? Where are you going to find jobs for them? It isn't only about compassion, but about the fact that we just can't take them; we are full.

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jus2cents 1 year, 2 months ago

Governments in the region could stop the refugees where they started and Help them get on their feet in Haiti. They need- Jobs- Create employment & encourage over sea investors. Education- Help build the facilities & staff them with foreign teachers. Infrastructure- Put bids out to invest in roads, hospitals, power stations. You could fix a lot in 10 years. This would all probably cost the same, or less than the US Government is spending on Border 'Control' now.

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joeblow 1 year, 2 months ago

... I could be wrong, but it seems unwise to try to pull people who are drowning into a sinking ship! It only hastens the demise of those on the ship!

The Bahamas is a sinking ship in large part because of the amount of immigrants we have absorbed into this country. It has driven down our standard of living, encouraged crime, reduce employment opportunities for Bahamians at the entry level and created a two nation system in our country. People who show no regard for the laws of a country are not likely to become law abiding after they gain illegal entry!

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jus2cents 1 year, 2 months ago

Thank you for writing this!

I am horrified by the average Bahamians response to the Haitians plight.

Seriously, one Dorian on New Providence and we would become climate refugees. That is an undisputable fact. And just one corrupt government could make our economy crash, so with covid and corruption we are very close to becoming just like Haiti. Maybe we deserve it because Bahamians are not kind neighbors and Karma is a bitch..

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