Hurricane Dorian exposed a delicate issue: Haitians who are in the Bahamas illegally. Thousands were living on Abaco Island before the storm and were an important part of the local economy.
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In the Bahamas, the Government has announced that Haitians who fled Hurricane Dorian and are not in the country legally will now face deportation. This is a shift from the government’s position immediately after the storm. Last month, the prime minister assured Haitians that evacuees would not be subject to removal. The government has also declared a ban on building on Abaco and Grand Bahama in areas that used to house thousands of Haitian and other migrants. NPR’s Jason Beaubien has this report from Marsh Harbour.
JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Jerome Tharvius is a Haitian who’s lived in Marsh Harbour off and on for the last two decades. He rode out Hurricane Dorian on Abaco Island and then evacuated to Nassau as soon as he could. But now he’s just returned, saying he’d rather be in storm-ravaged Marsh Harbour than in the capital.
JEROME THARVIUS: Nassau is very difficult. We don’t find anything to do.
BEAUBIEN: He was staying with hundreds of other evacuees, many of them Haitians, in tents at a sports complex in Nassau. He couldn’t find work. But he says the worst part was the discrimination towards Haitians.
THARVIUS: Not good treatment. Not good treatment. I don’t like the way they treat us.
BEAUBIEN: So even though his house was destroyed in the hurricane, and there’s no electricity in Marsh Harbour, he spent all night on a freight boat to come back here. Tharvius currently has a work permit and says immigration officials checked his paperwork in Nassau before allowing him to board. On Wednesday, the Prime Minister, Hubert Minnis, declared that anyone who is in the Bahamas illegally should leave voluntarily, or they will be forced to leave. Just weeks earlier, he said storm victims would not be subject to deportation and told a crowd of Haitians waiting to evacuate from Marsh Harbour…
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PRIME MINISTER HUBERT MINNIS: All of you will be treated with respect, so do not be afraid of my government. All of you will be treated equally.
BEAUBIEN: Now that the immediate crisis of the hurricane is past, the government says Haitians and other migrants who are in the country illegally will face deportation. The Minister of Immigration says that Haitians will not be allowed to use hurricane shelters to circumvent the law. Pierre Kelly, a Bahamian of Haitian descent in Marsh Harbour, says this is just one more blow to the Haitian migrants. Many of their friends and family members died in the storm, and now things keep getting more difficult for them.
PIERRE KELLY: I think it’s very hard for the Haitian people at this moment – after the hard working and no legal status to live here, and you have to run away from police. It’s very hard for the people right now. What I hope, somebody, somehow will have mercy on our Haitian brothers and sisters.
BEAUBIEN: For decades, Haitian migrants, including Kelly’s father, came to the Bahamas seeking a better life. Prior to the storm, they did much of the menial labor on the island that Bahamians wouldn’t do. Human rights groups have blasted the government’s new position. Stephanie St. Fleur with Rights Bahamas calls the lifting of amnesty for Haitian evacuees savage, cold-hearted and illegal. St. Fleur says many undocumented Haitians are among the hundreds of people still listed as missing. She says it’s cruel to deport people who are waiting to hear about the fate of their loved ones. Plus, she points out that there’s political unrest and riots right now in Port au Prince.
STEPHANIE ST FLEUR: Right now, presently, as we speak, there is uproar in Haiti. And to be sending people in Haiti at this time, if they were, like, say, going to do it, like, say, this month or next month, it wouldn’t be wise.
BEAUBIEN: But government leaders say they’re going to move forward aggressively to enforce the immigration laws, even if that deprives Abaco of an important source of labor for rebuilding.
Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Marsh Harbour, the Bahamas.
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