It’s getting worse for Haitian migrants in the Bahamas

340 Haitian migrants have been returned by the government of Bahamas since 5 September. (Photo: IOM/Bernard Lami)
340 Haitian migrants have been returned by the government of Bahamas since 5 September. (Photo: IOM/Bernard Lami)

Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis is no friend of undocumented Haitians.

Not long after the Category 5 Hurricane Dorian destroyed Haitian settlements in the Abaco Islands, he proclaimed that “illegals … can leave voluntarily … or they will be forced to leave.”

Undocumented underclass

Haitian migrants to the Bahamas, many of them undocumented, do the jobs that citizens won’t.

They are underpaid, and poorly housed, but it’s still an improvement compared to Haiti’s political crisis and economic ruin.

Yet an immigration crackdown in the Bahamas has seen Haitians rounded up, abused, and undocumented individuals deported.

Deportations had stopped in early 2019 because of the turmoil in Haiti, but resumed in force again in October. Haitians were arrested in the streets, in their places of work, in their homes, or in shelters.

While some Haitians have been able to survive in hiding, they live in terror of immigration patrols.

They are also subject to vitriolic hate speech, and condemned as violent “thugs” who steal jobs from Bahamanian citizens.

The leader of Operation Sovereign Bahamas, a nativist group, proclaims that “[t]he Bahamas is for Bahamians” and wants the Haitians out of the shelters and on their way back to Haiti.

Why they’re fleeing

And yet, Haitians have been immigrating to the Bahamas for hundreds of years.

The Haitian diaspora to the Bahamas, the United States, and other comparatively much wealthier countries is largely a result of the political turmoil that has engulfed the western half of the island of Hispaniola many times since it became a sovereign nation in the late 1700s.

Haiti’s misfortunes in recent years have derived in large part from the economic wrack and ruin that followed in the wake of the 2010 earthquake.

Allegations of widespread post-Dorian human rights abuses against Haitian deportees have not fallen on deaf ears.

Human rights activism

The International Organization for Migration is advocating for Haitians in the Bahamas, by interviewing deportees upon their return to Haiti and taking their stories to the media.

One survivor lamented that “After the cyclone, they treat Haitians bad, bad, bad…They beat us, they take our money… I never knew we could be treated like that, that this is how God works. They say Haitians caused the hurricane, you know.”

Meanwhile, the Bahamian government criticized the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights for investigating claims of “violence and abuse” against detained and deported Haitians.

Sources: Buzzfeed News, The Conversation, Eyewitness News (The Bahamas), International Organization for Migration (U.N. agency)

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