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15748: (Hermantin)Palm Beach Post-Haitians in the Bahamas (fwd)
From: leonie hermantin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The misery of living in a tropical ghetto leads many
Haitian-Bahamians to accept the risks of
The Bahamian pipeline
By Gary Kane, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 20, 2003
"It hurts you to be a nobody."
It's unusually chilly in this island resort town as Sedione prepares for his
shift as a food store bag boy. The castoff pallet serves as an open-air
shower stall. He shares it with a few neighbors, as he does a freshly dug
latrine behind some bushes.
Home is a one-room plywood shelter with no electricity and no running water.
A narrow bed crouches just inches above the worn carpet, which seems alive
with ants. A kerosene lamp lights the room. A few clean shirts on hangers
dangle from the ceiling.
Sedione was born here 22 years ago. But he's not a Bahamian citizen because
his parents are Haitian nationals. He's not a Haitian citizen either.
He's never been to Haiti. And though he has applied three times for his
Bahamian citizenship and spent about $4,500 on paperwork and lawyers, he has
nothing to show for his efforts.
The misery of being a Haitian-Bahamian, of living in a crowded tropical
ghetto dubbed The Mud (so-named because it's located atop the mud dredged
from the adjacent harbor), leaves him no alternative but to accept the risks
of escape, he said.
"I know a guy with a fast boat. I'm going to leave."
For decades, Haitians have been fleeing the economic and political chaos of
their homeland. Their migration has given birth to a cottage industry of
smugglers who ferry small groups of Haitians (and migrants from other
countries) into South Florida.
These small-scale smugglers operate in ideal geographic conditions: hundreds
of miles of shoreline, inlets and islands. In their small boats they easily
blend with the flotillas of pleasure and fishing vessels that dot the
Nobody knows for sure how many of these smugglers are doing business or how
many people they've brought to South Florida.
But Border Patrol agents readily admit that the handfuls of illegals who end
up on local beaches are but a fraction of those who make the trip.
And thousands more are waiting to be smuggled.
Going rate for smugglers: $2,500
Marc Sedione's destination is West Palm Beach, where he has family. Sedione
will enter illegally. The trip will cost $2,500, the going rate to be
smuggled into the United States from this part of the Bahamas.
"Our dream is the USA, you know. It's every Haitian-Bahamian's dream,"
Sedione said. "It's like living in the desert and knowing that in the
distance is a pool of cool water where you can quench your thirst. You're
willing to die to get there."
His desperation is a sentiment common among the few thousand Haitian
refugees living in The Mud and an adjacent squatter's settlement called
Pigeon Pea. It's the desperation of a people who feel unwanted, exploited
"This community is here because of discrimination," Sedione said. "When
you've been treated so bad, so long, you don't feel for the Bahamas. I don't
know why the Bahamians hate us so much."
Small wooden shacks are built side-by-side in Pigeon Pea, where most
residents are Haitian. Three years ago, a fire destroyed more than 20
dwellings, leaving about 140 homeless. Miraculously, no one was killed,
In the Bahamas, the burgeoning Haitian population is openly referred to as
the "Haitian problem."
Their numbers -- the Bahamian government estimates about 21,500 while the
United Nations and others suggest the figure is probably twice that --
strain the islands' health and education systems. On a few islands, Haitians
are even blamed for an increase in crime.
Paradoxically, many Bahamians also feel Haitians play an important role in
the islands' economy.
They are a source of cheap labor, willing to work as gardeners, trash
collectors and dish washers.
"The Bahamian public becomes politically agitated by what they consider to
be huge numbers of people coming in and swamping their society," said Fred
Mitchell, minister of foreign affairs.
"At the same time, however, there's an economic benefit to the migration
because the labor force is augmented significantly by those people who come
in from Haiti. Many people ask the question if you actually repatriate every
suspected illegal immigrant, would the economy of the Bahamas survive?"
Plywood dwellings kept hidden
Abaco, a boomerang-shaped island 180 miles east of West Palm Beach, is home
to one of the largest concentrations of Haitians in the Bahamas.
Slightly more than 13,000 people live on the island, according to a 2000
census. As many as 5,000 of those residents are Haitians, according to some
In these neighborhoods, women cook outdoors over charcoal fires and wash
clothes in buckets. The men who can't find jobs can often be found playing
cards in an alley. A few squatters run small food stands, selling fruits and
vegetables grown in small gardens.
A few peddle drugs. Children play among the rusting carcasses of abandoned
When the sun sets, a chorus of gas generators erupts. Some residents have
generators while others pirate power from other sources.
Along some alleys, electric cords link rows of shacks. A couple of the
better-constructed rooftops boast satellite dishes for televisions.
"With the wires running through the mud when it rains, it's very, very
hazardous," said Barbara Farington, a Jehovah's Witness missionary who works
in the area. "They build the houses without any building codes, you know.
Many, many homes are destroyed when they have fires."
Three years ago, a fire in Pigeon Pea destroyed more than 20 dwellings,
leaving about 140 people homeless. Miraculously, no one was killed,
Bahamian immigration officials cracked down on the two settlement camps
about 10 years ago in response to fears that the influx of Haitian migrants
threatened to swamp the schools, hospitals and social service agencies on
Authorities conducted nighttime sweeps through The Mud and Pigeon Pea and
seized about 200 Haitians who were then forced aboard ships bound for Haiti.
Those who were removed eventually were replaced by new arrivals. The numbers
have grown to the extent that another crackdown is being considered.
"We don't call them raids. We call it the removal of illegal migrants," said
Errol Ferguson, senior immigration officer in Abaco. "It's a serious problem
because I think we are overcrowded with Haitians."
At least two attempts to evict the squatters from Pigeon Pea and The Mud
have been unsuccessful.
The dilemma: finding a suitable place to relocate a few thousand people. One
site proposed by the government was rejected by the squatters as being too
When Haitians do leave The Mud or Pigeon Pea, it's usually because they've
finally accumulated enough cash to hire a smuggler to take them to the
Last year about 100 Haitians moved on to the U.S., said Sedione and his
neighbor, Calvin Lewis, who said he intends to do the same.
"I'm migrating, man," he said. "Everybody leaves. You know what I mean? Go
to the States because you get a better living. You get more education. You
get more opportunities. In the Bahamas, there ain't no opportunity."
Lewis said he has a friend who will take him to Florida for $1,500. They'll
pass through Freeport and then through Bimini, possibly spending the night
there before heading toward Florida.
"Yeah, it's risky," he said. "But if I go in to the States and I see Coast
Guard, I'm jumping out of the boat and I'm swimming. I don't give a damn.
I'm reaching land."
As on Abaco, clusters of Haitians have emerged on several islands. A large
Haitian community is located in the Carmichael Road area about 10 miles
outside of Nassau. On Grand Bahama Island, an area near Freeport called
Pinder's Point is predominantly Haitian. Large pockets of Haitians can be
found in The Bluff, Rock Sound and Governor's Harbour on the island of
Eliezer Regnier, a Nassau attorney who emigrated from Haiti at age 6 with
his parents, maintains that all of these Haitian settlements are essentially
jump-off points for migrants heading to the United States.
"I would consider the Bahamas more of a pipeline toward the U.S.," he said.
"(Haitians) come to the Bahamas because it is better than Haiti
economically. But inevitably, the final trophy, in my view, is still the
And this demand for transit into the States fuels the cottage industry of
migrant smuggling, Regnier said.
"Money is a driving force."
Like many Bahamians, Regnier doubts that Florida's coastline has become less
vulnerable to smuggling despite the calls for heightened security in the
aftermath of the terrorist attacks against the U.S.
"One cannot overlook the fact that Grand Bahama, Bimini, Abaco and the
barrier islands are very near Florida. So well-competent boatmen can depart
at night and easily make landfall before morning," he said. "So although
there's a lot of technology patrolling that area, inevitably some will get
through the cracks."
Marc Sedione hopes to become one of those who slip through. He said he's
saved most of what he needs to pay a smuggler and have a few thousand left
over to begin his new life in the U.S.
He plans to go to Miami to finish high school. He wants to attend college to
He's never been to the U.S., but feels it offers Haitians, even illegal
migrants, a better life.
"We've been living in a nation that has been trampling over our reputations,
our lives," he said. "We need to know a nation that loves us and supports
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