By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
ONLY two Haitian survivors from Sunday’s deadly boating tragedy had work permits to be in the country, Labour and Immigration Minister Keith Bell revealed yesterday, as he promised survivors would be treated humanely.
Speaking to the media, Mr Bell said it is likely those work permits will be revoked and that the holders will be repatriated as a consequence of violating the country’s immigration laws.
“We are now reviewing as to what we will do in respect to that, but standard policy is that those permits will be cancelled immediately and they would face repatriation,” Mr Bell said ahead of a Cabinet meeting.
“We want to be humane about what we do and how we do things given the tragedy, but at the same time, we have laws to enforce and we want to ensure that we do precisely that.
“Based on the information that we have coming from the police and the investigation, it would appear that they were engaged in an illegal smuggling operation, which is an offence in The Bahamas. Therefore, you cannot be in possession of a work permit. If you commit an offence, that’s grounds to cancel that permit.”
According to police, some 50 people were travelling on a 33ft twin engine vessel that was enroute to either Miami, Florida or Grand Bahama when it overturned in rough seas near Blackbeard’s Cay around 1am Sunday.
The tragedy left 17 Haitians, including a young girl, dead, while several people are believed to still be missing.
Twenty-five people, including two Bahamian men, have since been rescued following the accident. Those two Bahamians in addition to a third man, have been arrested.
Yesterday, Mr Bell said 22 Haitian nationals are currently being housed at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre.
Meanwhile, two Haitian survivors remain in hospital, a Public Hospital official confirmed to The Tribune yesterday.
Mr Bell said counsellors from the local Haitian community have been engaged to provide grief therapy to the survivors.
Asked yesterday when the nationals are expected to be repatriated, Mr Bell said exercises will begin once investigations have been completed.
However, he also explained that repatriations of the Haitians will not happen right away.
“Those persons who were involved in this incident in one way or the other, we would not move to repatriate immediately because it’s an ongoing investigation,” Mr Bell said.
“We will have to wait until the police finish their investigation and be satisfied that we may not necessarily need these persons as witnesses, or they very well may face other consequences.”
“But as it stands now, let me say that at the detention centre, we have a total of 27 irregular migrants of Haitian descent. We have 93 Cuban nationals there now. We have a Venezuelan, two Dominicans, a Jamaican national and an Italian national there and so we are looking to ensure that we work with these countries to have their nationals repatriated as quickly as possible.”
As it relates to search and recovery efforts of missing passengers, Mr Bell said officials will continue to utilise every effort to recover remains where possible.
“We will be out there,” the minister said when asked when officials intend to call off the search.
“I’m sure that the Minister of National Security would agree with me as long as it takes to recover the remains if there are any more at sea and once we get the experts, that is the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, who’s leading that charge, once they’re satisfied, that they are beyond recovering any bodies, etc, then they will advise the minister who will then make a decision. “
RBPF officials could not say up to press time yesterday whether any of the deceased had been identified by relatives.
On Monday, National Security Minister Wayne Munroe pledged to uncover the full extent of operations behind the latest boating incident, noting the illegal activity could be a part of larger transnational organised crime.
“In my mind, something like that doesn’t just pop up and happen so we may be contending with international criminal organisations and – so there will be investigations to discover how this operation is put together,” he told reporters.
“Is it localised? Does it involve persons in the US? Does it involve persons from Haiti? Is it a transnational gang? And our law enforcement officials will address that as expeditiously as they can.”
In 2019, 28 Haitian migrants died after their boat capsized off Abaco in February of that year.