Saturday, June 22, 2013

The issue of Haitians in The Bahamas

The rise of the Haitian population

Community expands since independence

By Juan McCartney
Guardian Broadcast Editor

The issue of Haitians in The Bahamas has long been a contentious one. On one side of the divide are those who believe The Bahamas should be welcoming toward Haitians. The other side is filled with those who believe our national identity is being threatened and normally blame Haitians for a host of social ills.

It wasn’t always this way.

While there were many years in the middle of the 20th Century when Haitians trickled in for menial labor jobs and were usually just as quick to leave, the 1980s saw a boom in Haitian migration as that nation’s economy and political situation collapsed.

Now, as The Bahamas celebrates its 40th anniversary as an independent nation, many are reflecting on how much has changed with regard to the Haitian population since the birth of the nation.

According to census data, since independence, the population of the entire Bahamas has more than doubled; however, the Haitian population has grown to more than six times what it was in 1970.

The data, compiled by the Department of Statistics, shows that Haitians represented 3.6 percent (6,151) of the population in 1970. By 2000, that figure nearly doubled to 7.1 percent (21,426). According to the census conducted in 2010, Haitians represented 11.5 percent (39,144) of the population.

Put another way: At least one out of every 10 people who reside in The Bahamas is now Haitian.

And the growth is projected to continue. Data collected by the Department of Statistics in 2010 on births in The Bahamas over the previous 40 years shows that women, domestic and foreign-born, are having fewer children. Except Haitian women, that is.

While the overall birth rate in 2010 was about 50 percent of what it was in 1970, the birth rate among Haitian women in The Bahamas has nearly doubled in the past 40 years.

This, even as births by foreign women have dropped in the past four decades, from about 30 percent in 1970 to about 18 percent in 2010.

“The number of births (to Haitian women) grew from 7.2 percent in 1970, to an average of 13.7 percent by 2010,” the report noted. “In contrast, births to women of Jamaican ethnicity declined by some 50 percent. For females from countries outside the Caribbean, the numbers of births plunged, especially since 2008 to (nearly zero) from 12.1 in 1970.”

Though Haitians now make up 11 percent of the population, that number is basically focused in a handful of islands, often making the Haitian presence seem much greater.

According to data compiled by W.J. Fielding, et al., published in The Stigma of Being “Haitian” in The Bahamas in The College of The Bahamas Research Journal, 2008, shows that Haitian communities are mainly present on Abaco, New Providence, Grand Bahama and Eleuthera.

“This has resulted in a perception that Haitians are taking over,” noted Fielding, et al.

“It would seem that economic opportunities are the driving force which causes the Haitian community to become concentrated, which would be expected given that Haitians migrate to The Bahamas to find work.

“The disproportionate increase in size of the Haitian community can expect to make nationals feel threatened, and lead to xenophobia and, in the case of the Dominican Republic, attacks on Haitian migrants.”

And the fact that Haitians are having more children seems to have further concentrated their presence in schools on the four islands they predominantly reside on.

Fielding showed that on Abaco, in 2005, Haitians represented 16.9 percent of the population. However, Haitian children accounted for 31.3 percent of those enrolled in school.

On New Providence, where Haitians accounted for 7.2 percent of the population, Haitian children accounted for 12.5 percent of those enrolled in school.

Things were on a more even keel in Grand Bahama, where Haitians represented 5.4 percent of the population and 5.8 percent of students.

On Eleuthera, Haitians represented 9.5 percent of the population and 10 percent of students.

Fielding submitted that being Haitian in The Bahamas leads to stigmatization and isolation.

One of the very real situations that leads to further discrimination and stigmatization of Haitians are shantytowns.

According to a report completed earlier this year by researchers in the Department of Environmental Health, there has been ‘a marked increase’ in the number of

shantytowns on New

Providence over the last two years and the populations have grown “exponentially”.

According to the report titled ‘Haitian shanty village locations in New Providence’, there are at least 15 of these illegal communities on the island.

Researchers found that there is a “marked indifference to the extremely unhealthy conditions by those that occupy the shanties”.

The researchers also found that there is an abundant use of Bahamian pine trees for the purpose of producing coal for commercial purposes.

They said commerce is alive and well in many of the areas surveyed, and also warned of a serious and growing threat to public health.

Researchers said “the presence of discarded human usage, waste, combined with the presence of domestic livestock is evident”.

It said the teams of researchers observed, in almost every shantytown, the presence of human and animal waste.

The report said the Haitian migration, and subsequent squatting, are focused primarily in New Providence and the Family Islands with larger population concentrations like Abaco and Andros.

Researchers said an increasing trend is the increase in the number of Bahamians (people who claim to be Bahamian citizens based on one parent being of Haitian progeny) while others claim outright Bahamian ancestry.

Discussing shantytowns in their research, Fielding et al., noted that the cycle of Haitians occupying such villages is likely to continue.

“It is clear that the Haitian community lives in poorer circumstances than other residents in the country,” they noted. “Almost certainly, this is due to lower incomes, which in turn is a result of poor education and (presumably) language barriers, which prevent Haitian nationals from getting better employment.”

Minister of Environment and Housing Kenred Dorsett last week promised a crackdown on shantytowns, claiming that the process of clearing them up has just started.

However, there is one glaring mystery left in the wake of Dorsett’s proclamation: What is to become of the predominantly Haitian residents of the shantytowns?

The Christie administration has so far not presented a solution to the problem of illegal Haitian migration – long or short term.

There has been a commitment to beef up the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, but that will take years and the focus of that plant upgrade is still unclear.

Forty years after independence, the problem of Haitian migration in The Bahamas persists without a viable plan to stop it or to naturalize and integrate them into our culture.

“Rather than being considered a threat, as migrants can be,” said Fielding, “These people should be seen as a legitimate part of a multicultural society who enrich the lives of all residents.”

June 17, 2013

The Nassau Guardian