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a446: Haitians Overwhelm Bahamas (fwd)





From: Daniel Schweissing <dan_schweissing@hotmail.com>

Haitians overwhelm Bahamas

Released Monday, January 14, 2002 at 10:10 am EST by Lindsay Thompson

Haitians overwhelm Bahamas

Officials humane, but resolute in

up-hill repatriation exercises

By LINDSAY THOMPSON

Guardian Senior Reporter

As The Bahamas is unable to stop the influx of illegal Haitian immigrants,
the relevant authorities guarding Bahamian territory must remain vigilant,
says Minister of Labour and Immigration Earl Deveaux.

"The Bahamian people must be mindful that this is a cost to our society. so
whenever they show up, the Defence Force, Immigration Department and Police
Force are involved in the process," Deveaux said in a Guardian interview.

Noting that The Bahamas is a member of the United Nations, he said, "We have
to be as humane, though as resolute as we can possibly be in returning them
home."

Last year, The Bahamas spent approximately $1.2 million on repatriating
close to 8,000 illegal immigrants, the majority of trips being into Haiti;
other nationalities are flown to their respective countries via Havana,
Cuba, or Kingston, Jamaica.

So far this year, the Defence Force intercepted three separate boatloads of
Haitians, who braved the cold winter seas in search of a better livelihood.

Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, current Caribbean Community chairman, has
met with the prime ministers of Barbados and Jamaica, Haitian Government
leaders, and the President of the United States several times over the past
years, to persuade Haiti to improve its democracy by taking advantage of the
"millions" of dollars in international aid for this purpose.

"So far, Haiti has not done so," Deveaux said, "And as a consequence, the
economic restoration of that society together with improvements in its
health, educational and political system have not come about and so Haitians
still see the need to leave home."

The Bahamas, with its wide-open sea boarders, is the nearest country to the
United States where the vast majority of Haitians are seeking to go. And as
a consequence, The Bahamas is unable to discourage Haitians from fleeing
their homeland.

"They will continue to be an expense but I don't see us changing that option
any time soon," Deveaux said.

The alternative, he said, is collaborating with other states in improving
life in Haiti and ensuring that the Haitian government does the same things
as The Bahamas, The Dominican Republic and other governments in the region
do to attract foreign investment.

Commenting on the criticisms The Bahamas gets from outsiders, particularly
Amnesty International on the perception that Haitians are being treated
inhumanely, Deveaux said that that is the role of such organisations that
deal with "all" refugees.

What can't be denied, he said, are the inhumane conditions and the difficult
circumstances such persons endure in their homeland.

"But we don't treat people inhumanely," Deveaux said. "The conditions at the
Detention Centre are not substandard and The Bahamas ought to be commended
internationally, given its size and the level of its resources, for the
extent to which it accommodates migrants."

This aside, Deveaux was asked what else The Bahamas does in such
circumstances.

"There is no other country in the world that has such a proportion of
non-citizens in its midst, legally or otherwise and so to ask us to do more
than we are doing, we can't absorb it socially, we certainly can't absorb it
economically."

According to Deveaux, this is not a situation where the case can be made
that The Bahamas is attracting a higher level of skills. The country, he
said, is absorbing people at the lower end of their economic and educational
platform and in this regard, "The expense and long term improvement in their
ability to contribute to that society is borne by the tax payers in that
society."

Deveaux dismissed any fear of The Bahamas being overthrown by its Caribbean
neighbours.

He was certain that The Bahamas was in control of the situation, and that
the migration patterns were not as difficult as they appeared to be.
However, it was an expensive process, he said.

And those Haitians who became citizens of The Bahamas, "were no different
from the Japanese who were incarcerated after the First World War, after the
bombing of Pearl Harbour, (and who) became citizens of the United States,"
Deveaux said.

"What I am concerned about," he expressed, "is the social cost of absorbing
huge numbers of illegal immigrants. I am concerned about the likely
desensitizing of our officials in dealing with continuing surges of illegal
migrants that they have to return home."

Copyright (c) 2001 by Nassau Guardian


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