Bahamians want to probe Haitian smuggling rings
By Juan McCartney
Guardian Senior Reporter
Nassau, The Bahamas
The government is pushing ahead with its plan to place Bahamian intelligence officers in Haiti with a view to investigating and breaking human smuggling rings operating out The Bahamas’ impoverished, yet densely populated southern neighbor, according to Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell.
The minister said the officers would be placed in Haiti as part of an initiative previously negotiated in a joint bilateral commission with Haiti, but never ratified by the administration of since-overthrown Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Mitchell said the issue came up during high-level meetings with Haitian officials at the 33rd CARICOM heads of government meeting in St. Lucia earlier this month.
“We would like to [have officers there] because we believe that if we are allowed to have intelligence officers in Haiti we can probably stop this smuggling or put a big dent in it from the north. So those are our aims and objectives with regard to that,” Mitchell said.
During the CARICOM meetings, Haitian President Michel Martelly and Trade Minister Wilson Laleau were more interested in talking about trade matters, according to Mitchell, but the Bahamian contingent pressed to also have meaningful discussions about illegal migration.
As the government seeks to severely curb illegal immigration and human smuggling, tougher penalties for harboring illegal immigrants could also be introduced as amendments to existing law when the House of Assembly meets tomorrow, said Mitchell.
“We’re looking to amend the law to make harboring illegal migrants a serious offense with serious penalties,” Mitchell explained. “I guess debate will take place in the fall because we want to have some public discussion about the matter.”
The expected legislation will arrive in the wake of several tragedies that have taken place in recent weeks believed to be the result of human smuggling.
Last month, a vessel capsized in waters about two miles off Crown Haven, Abaco, ending in the deaths of 11 women and children believed to be of Haitian descent.
The victims were among 28 passengers who boarded the ill-fated boat from Abaco and headed to Florida on June 10, authorities said.
Five of the victims were children who attended Treasure Cay Primary School. The other victims were women.
Police suspect the group was part of a human smuggling operation that originated in Abaco. At least seven people are believed to have survived the accident.
Earlier this month, a Haitian woman drowned after a Haitian sloop landed in waters just off southeastern New Providence.
Several other bodies believed to be connected to that incident were later found.
Dozens of migrants who also arrived on that boat were also captured.
July 24, 2012