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Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis served notice to “all those who are illegal that they can leave voluntarily or they will be forced to leave”.
Local human rights group, Rights Bahamas says it has placed international human rights groups on alert as the government moves to expel immigrants affected by Hurricane Dorian which devastated Abaco and Grand Bahama last month.
They say the move will cause statelessness, affect children and deny many their legal right to citizenship.
When the Category 5 hurricane tore through the northern Bahamas September 1 to 3, it destroyed many shantytowns in Abaco which were home to migrants – some legal, others illegal.
Addressing Parliament yesterday – the first sitting since the powerful hurricane – Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis served notice to “all those who are illegal that they can leave voluntarily or they will be forced to leave”, a day after Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson insisted that hurricane shelters would not be used by illegal immigrants “to circumvent the law”. Attorney General Carl Bethel had also called for migrants who have lost their jobs because of Hurricane Dorian to leave the country.
The warnings came on the heels of previous assurances from Johnson that given the humanitarian situation facing the country after the hurricane, authorities would not be going after illegal immigrants.
“We condemn this sudden about-face from the government’s earlier declaration that it will not target migrant the victims of the storm, and denounce the scheme for what is clearly is – a shameful attempt at political posturing aimed at currying favour with xenophobic elements of the populace,” Rights Bahamas said in a statement.
“Rights Bahamas has alerted international human rights groups to the government’s savage, cold-hearted and illegal plan to expel migrants affected by Hurricane Dorian, as outlined by Attorney General Carl Bethel….Bethel’s call…is hollow and disingenuous. How will those who have lost their property, their money and probably their travel documents manage to leave? This is nothing more than a precursor and excuse for an exercise of mass illegal deportation without due process.”
The group said the migrant population was among the most gravely affected by the storm and chastised the government for wanting to “kick them when they are at their lowest, and heap further misery on their heads, just to score cheap political points”.
“It is utterly unconscionable to further target, victimise and scapegoat people who have lost everything, including loved ones, in this shameful manner. Are they to have no time to even mourn in peace?….The government’s actions are the definition of discrimination and inhumanity.”
The group added that the move would undoubtedly affect hundreds of children of migrants born in the Bahamas, effectively denying them the right to Bahamian citizenship as mandated by the constitution.
“Once expelled with their parents, we all know that they will never be allowed back in to access their birth right. For many, this could mean being rendered stateless if their parents have passed away and/or and they have no way to prove their connection to whatever country our government is planning to expel them,” Rights Bahamas said, urging all its international partners to vocally condemn the declaration by the Bahamas government.
The group said it was also reporting the matter to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, with a view to seeking precautionary measures to protect the migrant population in the Bahamas from arbitrary and illegal actions.