Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Robert F. Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Centre) slams The Bahamas' immigration policies ... and accuses the government of discrimination

Int’l Group Slams New Immigration Laws

By Jones Bahamas:

A U.S. based human rights group over the weekend slammed the country’s recently implemented immigration policies and accused The Bahamas government of discrimination and claimed that the recent raids on immigrants in the country were strictly aimed at those of Haitian descent.

However, officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were quick to respond and shut down these comments from the Robert F. Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Centre) calling them “nonsense.”

On Friday the RFK Centre issued a statement on its website regarding the controversial and closely watched immigration exercises and noted that their leaders “express alarm at the discriminatory use of new immigration policies in The Bahamas.”

On Saturday November 1 new immigration policies came into effect that seek to clamp down on all foreigners living and working in the country.

All non-nationals residing in The Bahamas must show evidence that they have permission to live or work in the country.

“According to reports from Bahamian civil society, children born in The Bahamas to migrant parents were given 30 days notice to apply for and secure a passport from the country of origin of their parents or face expulsion, despite the significant financial burdens this new policy imposes and with no consideration for an ordinary processing time of over two months to secure a passport in some cases,” the human rights watchdog said.

“While the government of The Bahamas insists that the measures are not aimed at any national group, Bahamian civil society organisations have related that officials are targeting immigration raids at neighborhoods where the population is predominantly of Haitian descent. The RFK Centre received a report of at least one government-run school that, as of Monday, started to require students to bring their identification with them in order to access the classroom.”

President of the RFK Centre Kerry Kennedy said statehood is a fundamental human right, but added these reports “indicate that the Bahamian government regards it as a tool for discrimination.”

“These new policies mean that thousands of children in The Bahamas now live in fear of arbitrary arrest or deportation,” Mr. Kennedy said. “The Bahamas must immediately fulfill its obligation to protect children-no matter their status, and no matter their ethnicity.”

On November 1, 77 people, including Haitians, Filipinos, Chinese and Jamaicans, were all arrested during that sting operation.

A second operation over the weekend saw nearly 50 more immigrants arrested.

The RFK Centre said based on information it has received, many of those detained in the first operation were forced to remain in custody until the immigration office reopened the following Monday and they could prove their valid status and that many were not provided the opportunity to seek legal counsel, apply for asylum, or appeal their deportation orders.

“The reports coming out of The Bahamas indicate that the government is endangering the human rights of people in immigration detention, including the right to due process and the rights to humane treatment and health,” according to Executive Director of RFK Partners for Human Rights Santiago A. Canton.

“The government must immediately bring its immigration policies and practices in line with its binding international human rights obligations.”

These comments did not sit well with Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials who shot back with a statement of their own on Saturday.

In fact, ministry officials said representatives from the RFK Centre never contacted them for comment on the matter.

“The statement by the RFK Centre over the new immigration policies is replete with errors,” the government statement read. “It is deplorable that a reputable body would repeat such nonsense.

The policy is not discriminatory either in its execution or its effects and there were no massive raids. No raids were conducted by the Department of Immigration at all.

“It is not true that those released had to await the opening of the Immigration Office on Monday. Those are just some examples of a statement that is loose with the truth and defames The Bahamas. The statement is terribly disappointing. There is a rule in Bahamian folk tradition: if you don’t know shut your mouth. If you want to know, just check. This is a completely open and transparent society, with nothing to hide.”

Foreign Affairs officials also responded to claims made in an article that appeared in the Miami Herald on Friday and noted that despite what was published; the Haitian Ambassador to The Bahamas Antonio Rodrigue has not been recalled to Haiti and he has been summoned to the Haitian Foreign Office.

“The Bahamas Minister of Foreign Affairs has spoken to the Haitian ambassador and the truth is that he traveled to Haiti for consultations with the Haitian government, not withdrawn as ambassador to The Bahamas as the Herald’s story suggested,” officials said.

“The Haitian foreign minister and the Bahamian foreign minister are to speak (today) by telephone and may meet in Tokyo next week. The Bahamian ambassador to Haiti attended a meeting with the minister of foreign affairs of Haiti on November 6 and assured him that there was no abuse or inhumane treatment of Haitian nationals in The Bahamas in connection with the enforcement of the new immigration policies.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also noted that when Haitian President Michel Martelly visited The Bahamas on July 28, the prime minister of The Bahamas advised the president of the steps that The Bahamas government would take with regard to immigration matters.

The matters, they said, were similarly discussed between the two foreign ministers of The Bahamas and Haiti at the United Nations General Assembly in September.

November 10, 2014

Jones Bahamas