By LETRE SWEETING
THE Ministries of Labour and Immigration now have the assistance of the International Organisation for Migration amid a rise of irregular incidents of migrations to the Bahama.
Michele Klein-Solomon, IOM regional director, said the organisation wants to provide technical assistance to make immigration processes in the country more efficient.
Labour and Immigration Minister Keith Bell met with Ms Klein-Solomon yesterday at the Department of Labour, where a press conference was held to announce a partnership between government and the IOM.
“We will be exploring how we can help the government of The Bahamas,” Ms Klein-Solomon said. She oversees Central America, North America and the Caribbean for the IOM.
“Everything toward speeding up the processing in the migration ministry and claims. We have tools available that are used in many countries in the region that can help fast-track the consideration claims so that people know what their status is.”
Ms Klein-Solomon said the IOM wishes to provide migrants with other options apart from deportation.
“We run programmes that are called Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration. This is an alternative to deportation for people who have been found to be ineligible to remain legally in a country. Rather than being deported back to their country of origin, we sometimes are able to work out arrangements where they can choose voluntarily to go home, which means they do not receive a deportation stamp in their passport. Which helps ensure both their agency in making a choice and also their dignity in being able to move home in a secure way, ideally with some reintegration assistance.”
She added: “I’m not saying people should not be deported. That is purely the prerogative of the government to remove people who are not authorised to stay.”
The IOM director added that IOM is a people-centred organisation and ultimately just wants to protect the rights of migrants while also fulfilling migration legislation.
“We will have a discussion about how we can best support the government in managing migration in a humane way, a people-centred way that protects the rights and dignities of migrants while at the same time, ensuring the fulfillment of The Bahamas independent migration legislation,” she said.
Ms Klein-Solomon said that though IOM does not offer financial assistance directly, they do realise the necessity of funds in this case and will work with various donors to provide assistance, with full collaboration with the government.
“We are in the habit of working to raise funds to help support these activities and we understand that will be necessary in this case,” she said. She added that the IOM’s recent trends analysis released at the end of June on migration and challenges of the entire Western hemisphere showed a rise in migration from Haiti due to the country’s current instability.
“One of our key focuses as an organisation is finding migrants in vulnerable situations. Many are exploited along the route and smugglers take advantage of people who are looking to find a safe place to live and often charge them absolutely exorbitant fees that they shouldn’t be charged at all and exploit them in the process. That is a major concern for us.”
Labour and Immigration Minister Bell added briefly that he expects the meeting with IOM to be very productive.
“We were about to go into a meeting, but I thought it was important to share with The Bahamas the purpose of this meeting which obviously plans to be very, very productive,” the minister said.
Ms Klein-Solomon was joined by her colleagues consisting of Karen Timothy-Moss, head of office in The Bahamas, Andrea Dabizzi, head of migration and protection assistance unit, William Fryer, senior regional resource management officer, as well as a representative from the United Nations.
IOM re-established their presence in The Bahamas in 2019, after shutting down their operations several years earlier. In 2019, they aimed to assist with disaster management and emergency response needed at the time of Hurricane Dorian.
Since then, they have been transitioning from disaster response to central support to migration and management in The Bahamas.
Ms Klein-Solomon said IOM will talk later with other ministries such as Disaster Management about Disaster Risk Reduction and other migration issues. The organisation also plans to operate a training and capacity building for training persons for line ministries such as border, customs, consular officials and more.
Assistance from IOM with illegal and irregular migration was prompted by the ongoing crisis in Haiti following the assassination of the country’s Prime Minister Jovenel Moise last year, recent gang violence and residents of the nations wishing to leave in search of better opportunities and living conditions.
In July, 17 Haitian migrants perished in a boat off the coast of Blackbeard’s Cay. Officers said they were travelling to Miami as part of a smuggling operation.