Government pressured to deal with Haitian settlements
By MEGAN REYNOLDS
Tribune Staff Reporter
PRESSURE is mounting on the government to address Haitian settlements as an estimated 1,500 residents of Marsh Harbour's Pigeon Pea face eviction.
The complex mix of Haitian permanent residents, naturalised citizens, people born in the Bahamas with the right to citizenship, and Haitian migrants who may or may not have work permits living in around 500 overcrowded shacks on five acres of land in the centre of Marsh Harbour have been served eviction notices by landowner Ricky Albury this week giving them six months to vacate the property or be moved by order of the court.
Local government chairman of the Marsh Harbour and Spring City Township Roscoe Thompson III helped Mr Albury serve notices yesterday and said most residents are afraid they will have nowhere to go.
He said he will put pressure on central government to address the needs of the soon to be displaced community by providing housing for legal residents and regularising their status.
Haitian Society of the Bahamas president Jetta Baptiste said government will have to regularise their status and allow them to become recognised citizens or working members of society in response to the mass eviction.
"I feel if the government regularised everybody's status people would be happy to move out and invest in properties of their own," she said.
"But right now many people are afraid of investing in a home or property because they fear they could be deported and forced to leave their properties behind, losing their investment.
"So they're in a situation where they don't know what to do.
"They consider the place slippery ground.
"So the government should regularise those who need to be regularised, and deal with it once and for all.
"If they made them legal, gave them status, then we wouldn't have this problem.
"I think if they address it like that, all their problems would be absolved."
Director of Immigration Jack Thompson said he expects a multi-agency approach will be required to respond to the mass eviction as he awaits instructions from the top.
Abaconians hope the breaking up of Pigeon Pea will force government to regularise and house the residents of Pigeon Pea, but also confront the estimated 2,000 or more residents in The Mud on adjacent government land.
"The action we are hoping to get from central government is that they are going to effect somewhere for these people to go," an Abaco resident who supports the eviction told The Tribune.
"The ones here legally should be given every opportunity a Bahamian has, and for the ones here on work permits, it's up to their employers to find housing for them.
"But something needs to be done, it's getting ridiculous out here."
He said the situation in Abaco has reached boiling point as Abaconians born of Bahamian families are outnumbered two to one by Haitians and Bahamians of Haitian descent, and unregularised residents are putting pressure on healthcare services and schools without being able to fully participate in the economy as they await the processing of their paperwork.
If the social problems in Marsh Harbour continue to be ignored the repercussions will be felt by Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham who could lose his Abaco seat, said Ms Baptiste.
"I don't think the anger will lead to riots in the community," she said.
"But the government is going to suffer because they are going to vote against the government, they are not going to re-elect him into office and it will make or break them."
May 19, 2010