Bahamas defends immigration policy before IACHR
The Bahamas has stoutly defended its immigration policy and dismissed as “false, baseless and malicious” allegations by human rights groups that the policy had trampled on the human rights of people in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country.
Minister of State for Legal Affairs Damian Gomez, addressing the Infer-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on Friday, said the allegations made by the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association (GBHRA) were untrue as it relates to the new immigration policy that came into force late last year.
Gomez told the IACHR that Nassau has a history of respecting human rights that “predates our independence.
“Indeed, our support of Haiti and its people in the attainment of economic, political and social stability emanates from an abiding and unflinching belief in the dignity of our shared human condition,” Gomez told the IACHR commissioners, who convened the hearing based on specific allegations made by the GBHRA president Fred Smith about the mistreatment of illegal Haitian immigrants in The Bahamas.
Smith had submitted written documents to the IACHR on the issue and earlier this week, the international human rights group, Amnesty International said it was seeking information from the Bahamas government regarding its migration reform policy.
Amnesty said it was seeking the information amid allegations that the “reforms” might be “leading to human rights violations and enhancing discrimination in the country”.
Nassau last year implemented a series of migration policies and reforms, including new requirements for migrants residing in the country, such as holding a residence permit for children to be able to enroll in schools.
The government had also announced that, by November 1 last year, everyone living here would be requested to hold a passport of their nationality.
In his statement to the IACHR, the GBHRA president said that “the Government of The Bahamas has embraced Fascism and Nazism in a targeted campaign to commit genocide against Haitian nationals”.
But Gomez told the meeting that the human rights group had also compared the Detention Centre in his country to the infamous Auschwitz camp.
“These lies cannot be left unanswered. It is my solemn duty to protect the name and reputation of our people. That is the sole purpose of my attendance here today. Let not my good manners detract from the depth of outrage collectively felt by the people of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas at the defamation of our country.”
Gomez said that notwithstanding the failure of the petitioners to identify a victim of human rights abuses in The Bahamas “or of a single failing in our domestic juridical institutions to provide adequate redress we appear as Portia to demonstrate the purity of our response to the demands of upholding human rights in good and bad times when even our neighbours fail to respond.”
Gomez said that the new dormitories built at the Detention Center cost over one million US dollars and that the bunk beds, bathroom and toilet facilities were state of the art.
“Hardly a concentration camp, much less Auschwitz. Note also the furniture and facilities at the safe house rented from the Catholic Archdiocese of Nassau and The Bahamas. Would the Catholic Church not qualify as a part of civil society? Here they participate in a private public partnership to protect young people. Would the Catholic Church partner with purveyors of genocide? Yet this is what the Petitioners would have you believe.”
Gomez also dismissed suggestions that Haitians were being targeted under the new policy, adding that public records show otherwise and that the government of The Bahamas “acts even handedly in respect of the enforcement of our laws”.
He said that the National Security agencies have collected intelligence about the smugglers of illegal migrants from Haiti and that it has been reported that the fee charged each migrant ranges from US$1500 to US$5000.
“The criminal enterprise of human trafficking and smuggling is a new scourge to our people. It poses new risks to The Bahamas. These risks require a measured response to ensure that our laws are enforced and obeyed by all. The witting or unwitting comfort given by the Petitioners to these criminal enterprises is noted with deprecation.
“Our duty to govern is paramount. We cooperate with the international community in the fight against both human trafficking and terrorism. Law enforcement requires that we know and account for all aliens in our jurisdiction as far as is humanly possible. This is consistent with existing law and the amendments to the Immigration Act now being debated in our Parliament,” he added.
Gomez said that The Bahamas have faced illegal migration “for longer than we have enjoyed independence.
“Throughout this experience, we have extended Christian charity to the weakest amongst us: infants, children, young persons, the aged, the sick and the infirm. We have provided schools and education even granting it as a legal right irrespective of the immigration status of the child. We have provided health care irrespective of persons’ immigration status and we have done so for among other things to promote public health and to prevent the spread of communicable diseases.
“Our history of inclusion is now being questioned in spite of consistent public statements from the Ministers of Immigration, Education, Health and Social Services. This Bahamian tradition is questioned in the face of publicly disclosed expenditure and budgetary data which demonstrates the commitment of The Bahamas to the creation of a democratic, great and socially fair society,” he added.