Govt: No formal request on repatriation halt
BY CHESTER ROBARDS
Guardian Staff Reporter
The United Nations (UN) has not made a direct request to The Bahamas for the suspension of repatriations to Haiti, a press release from the Cabinet Office revealed yesterday.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Brent Symonette also told The Nassau Guardian yesterday that Haiti has had no drastic changes on the ground that would warrant ceasing repatriation exercises.
“We’re a sovereign country and obviously we have to review issues on the ground (in Haiti) and unless things change in Haiti our policy will remain the same,” Symonette said.
The Bahamas suspended repatriation exercises following the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti for several weeks last year.
This week, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Adrian Edwards, speaking at a press briefing at the Palace of Nations in Geneva, urged countries with high Haitian refugee populations like The Bahamas to halt repatriations until the situation in Haiti improves.
Edwards suggested that “precarious conditions continue to persist” in Haiti since the 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated its capital city.
“UNHCR and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights are renewing their appeal to governments to suspend, on humanitarian grounds, all involuntary returns to Haiti,” he said.
“Despite the recent elections and ongoing reconstruction efforts, Haiti, weakened by the earthquake, cannot yet ensure adequate protection or care, especially for some vulnerable groups in case of return, such as unaccompanied minors, disabled persons, people with health problems, victims of trafficking or of sexual abuse.”
The Cabinet Office release said the Government of The Bahamas had taken note of the request made by the UNHCR and ensured that “if a formal request is made by the UN to the Government of The Bahamas, such a request will be considered and a determination made as to the broader implications of such a request for The Bahamas and the best interests of our citizens.”
The release also insisted that The Bahamas has always been sensitive to the plight of the Haitian people.
“The Bahamas' record of dealing with the Haitian illegal immigration issue since the earthquake has been one of sensitivity and prudential judgment with regard to various domestic imperatives and our international obligations and relations,” the release said.
Symonette told The Guardian, “I talked to both the previous (Haitian) ambassador to The Bahamas who was in Jamaica, and Colin Granderson, OAS (Organization of American States) election representative in Haiti, and at the time none of them were aware of any changes in the current situation on the ground in Haiti, neither [is] our ambassador,” said Symonette, who recently returned from Jamaica.
“Therefore, repatriations to Haiti will be guided by if there are any changes on the ground. So we’ll continue obviously along those lines and should situations necessitate ceasing we will cease.
“...We haven’t had another earthquake or a hurricane. Yes, they had some rain the other day which killed some people, but there hasn’t been a drastic change that would affect our repatriation exercises.”
Jun 25, 2011