Washington, D.C., October 21, 2019 – Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights is gravely concerned following the Bahamian government’s treatment of migrants, predominantly from Haiti, in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, and its intent to deport migrants who sought refuge in shelters after the hurricane.
Discriminatory policies against Haitians and Bahamians of Haitian descent in The Bahamas have long been a problem. As Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights previously reported, a 2014 immigration policy aimed at curbing Haitian migration to The Bahamas required all residents to carry a passport and a “belonger’s permit” to prove legal status in the country. Immigration authorities regularly erect roadblocks and carry out raids, targeting people with Haitian-sounding last names. Migrants are often detained and deported without due process guarantees and Bahamians of Haitian descent who are unable to prove their legal status have suffered equally as a result. In 2015, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordered protective measures to safeguard the lives and liberties of hundreds of individuals detained at the Carmichael Immigrant Detention Center who are subjugated to overcrowding, violence, and a lack of medical and legal aid.
Thousands of Haitians, Haitian-Bahamians, and their Bahamas-born descendants live on Abaco island, the third most populous island in the Bahamian archipelago. After Hurricane Dorian made landfall on September 1, entire communities in Abaco were left in ruin and an estimated 70,000 individuals lost everything. The official death toll is 61 and over 1,200 individuals are still missing.
After the hurricane, thousands of individuals from Abaco sought temporary refuge in shelters and large-scale relief efforts are ongoing. However, the government has used migrants’ vulnerability in the wake of the hurricane to escalate efforts to deport them. Prime Minister Hubert Minnis initially declared deportations of migrants suspended but within a month, he reversed this position and announced that undocumented migrants affected by the hurricane have “no special protection” in shelters and will face deportation. Further, Abaco residents have been banned from returning home and rebuilding. The government ramped up its efforts to demolish shantytowns that house a large population of migrants leaving them homeless. Simultaneously, it has been reported that newly constructed relief facilities in Abaco have prioritized displaced Bahamians with documentation over the large number of victims who have lost their documentation.
With the government using the national tragedy of Hurricane Dorian as an opportunity to target and deport Haitian migrants, regardless of their legal status, victims in shelters now face an impossible decision - return to rebuild a destroyed community and risk arrest or remain in a shelter under the threat of imminent deportation.
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights calls on The Bahamas to halt deportations, respect the human rights of all individuals in the country, including migrants, and urges the international community to support the Bahamian government in providing relief to the hurricane victims and rebuilding the affected communities in an inclusive manner.