Horrific Detention Conditions in Bahamas

As of February 2015, active precautionary measures are in place that cover all detainees in the facility. The IACHR requested the state to address the special situation of unaccompanied children according to international standards, to ensure that legal and medical assistance is available, and to take immediate action to substantially reduce overcrowding within Carmichael Road Detention Center. It also asked the government to ensure that civil society organizations and international organizations have access to the facility to monitor conditions there.

Protective Measures Granted to Protect Immigrant Detainees Held Without Process in an Overcrowded Bahamian Detention Center

In November 2014, Bahamian immigration authorities began systematically targeting Haitian communities, conducting mass raids—including at schools—and bringing detainees to Nassau’s Carmichael Road Detention Center. Those acts reflected new Bahamian immigration policies that required non-Bahamian individuals to carry documentation proving their right to live and work in the country. Complicating the situation is the fact that the Bahamas does not grant automatic citizenship to people born in the Bahamas to foreign parents; these children have to apply for citizenship once they turn 18. This primarily withholds citizenship from children born to the country’s large population of Haitian immigrants.

The November 2014 policy change was considered a crackdown on Haitian immigrants and Bahamians of Haitian descent. People from Haitian neighborhoods, with Haitian last names, or those who simply “looked Haitian” were suddenly rounded up and detained for not having the right papers, regardless of whether they were born in the country and had a constitutional right to citizenship.

In 2014, the hundreds of people who were detained at Carmichael Road Detention Center existed in subhuman conditions. They were packed into cells where armed members of the Royal Bahamas Defense Force issued beatings, and they were denied anything resembling adequate medical care. Water was unsanitary, and the limited food far from nutritious, often with a single slice of bread for lunch. All men were forced to share one shower and one semifunctioning toilet plagued by sewage issues. Detainees were not issued clothing and instead forced to wear only what they came in with. Unaccompanied children were given no special care and were often housed with adults, in violation of international legal standards. Phone calls were disallowed, and visits were extremely limited, with no physical contact. One woman had a baby in the detention cell, with no medical assistance until hours after the birth. Many of these conditions persist at Carmichael Road Detention Center today.

Additionally, the Bahamian state has never established a maximum period of detention, with some people remaining detained for more than seven years, with limited access to their lawyers or any medical treatment.

Why is This a Key Case?

The substandard conditions at Carmichael Road Detention Center get to the heart of the discrimination and xenophobia experienced by immigrants, particularly Haitians, and their descendants in the Bahamas.

Even people born in the Bahamas who are in the process of applying for Bahamian citizenship have been detained and removed to Haiti, a country they have never been to—and the conditions detainees are being held in constitute significant human rights violations.

How is RFK Human Rights Supporting This Case?

Along with the Caribbean Institute of Human Rights, based in Puerto Rico, RFK Human Rights filed a request for precautionary measures before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and also participated in two public thematic hearings on the rights of migrants and their descendants before the IACHR in March 2015 and May 2019.

Name of the case (as it appears in the respective legal mechanism)

PM 535/14 – Persons in Immigration Detention at Carmichael Road Detention Center, the Bahamas

Legal mechanism in which the case is being litigated

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Procedural stage

In February of 2015, the IACHR granted precautionary measures for persons in immigration detention at Carmichael Road Detention Center in the Bahamas. Active measures remain in place. RFKHR is monitoring implementation.

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