Editorial

Can't The Bahamas share the milk of human kindness with Haiti?

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

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We suspect that the prime minister and people of The Bahamas must feel conflicted to the core of their souls after deporting 112 Haitians last week to face the political, social and economic upheavals that continue to inflict that tragic Caribbean country.

After all, The Bahamas is itself in the throes of recovery after the category 5 Hurricane Dorian came ashore the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama, causing catastrophic damage, heavy loss of life, and leaving at least 70,000 people homeless — making it one of the most destructive hurricanes in the country's history.

Many countries and organisations, regional and international, have been rallying to the aid of The Bahamas, which they should. As one of the better-off countries in the Caribbean Community (Caricom), The Bahamas has often come to the aid of other countries devastated by natural disasters.

It is therefore not difficult to imagine that Bahamians are conflicted, given the timing of the deportation of the Haitians. The action is coming at the same time as others are showing the milk of human kindness to Bahamians in their hour of need.

Of course, it needs to be said that The Bahamas has had a history of illegal migration, especially from Haiti. No country can afford to have large numbers of illegal immigrants calling upon its limited resources.

One therefore cannot fault The Bahamas for deporting illegal migrants. It is the timing of the deportation which causes concern. The optics do not look good and leave a bad taste in the mouth.

Apart from the island of New Providence, Abaco is believed to have had the largest population of Haitians, many residing in informal shantytowns. The two largest — Mudd and Pigeon Pea, in Abaco's capital, Marsh Harbour — suffered severe damage when Dorian swept through the archipelago last month.

There are widespread claims that large numbers of Haitians are among those killed by the storm but who do not factor in the official figures. This humanitarian crisis is not the right time to be deporting those who are suffering as much, if not more than Bahamians.

The decision looks even worse because the authorities are alleged to have ordered migrants who have lost their jobs as a result of the hurricane to go home, even if their work permits have not yet expired.

We note that the human rights group, Rights Bahamas, has criticised the decision, saying it has alerted its international human rights partners to the “Government's savage, cold-hearted and illegal plan”.

Those are harsh terms, but we think the situation points to the need for Caricom, and countries generally, to work on a plan to deal with illegal immigrants affected by natural disasters. No country is safe from disasters, and those who escape today might not tomorrow. And the affluent citizens of today could so easily become the desperate refugees of tomorrow.

Due to climate change, the destructive capacity of hurricanes is increasing. Storms are now moving slower and prolonging their time in affected areas, increasing the potential for excessive flooding, loss of life and economic devastation.

We must be ready at a moment's notice to be our brother's keeper. That is enlightened self-interest.


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