Bahamas - The Department of Immigration is using “an aggressive approach” to tackling the illegal immigration issue facing the country, Minister of State for Immigration the Hon. Branville McCartney announced.
And as part of this strategy, he said a hot line would be set up shortly to receive calls from the public on any suspected illegal activities or other concerns regarding immigrants.
At a press conference held Friday, August 1 at the Department of Immigration on Hawkins Hill, Mr. McCartney also disclosed that phase of the approach: obtaining data from the relevant government ministries and agencies on the effects of illegal immigration on the economy.
His statements came on the heels of the capture of approximately 300 Haitians nationals on Monday, July 28 in waters off southern New Providence; the largest number caught in about 10 years. The Haitian nationals have since been repatriated to Haiti, Mr. McCartney confirmed.
The Minister of State also confirmed that authorities recovered from the surrounding area
six bodies of those who perished as a result of that journey,
He expressed condolences to the Haitian people and the Haitian Government for those who died at sea. A report, the State Minister said, will be sent to Haiti on the incident detailing the capture of the vessel, the detention and repatriation of the refugees, the deaths and charging the boat captain before the court.
Mr. McCartney thanked the public for the assistance in this incident, stating, “They would not have been caught had it not been for the public’s assistance. I would like to thank them and encourage them to continue to help us with this vexing problem.”
He added, “I would like to thank the Police, the Defence Force and Immigration Department for certainly a job well done, particularly the humanitarian actions taken by them towards the illegal immigrants.
“You must always remember that although persons come here illegally, they are coming here because of depressed circumstances in their home and they are to be treated with respect, they are to be treated with the utmost dignity.”
Mr. McCartney also encouraged those who reported sightings of alleged illegal immigrants in Exuma, Abaco, Eleuthera and Harbour Island, to continue to do so “as this is perhaps one of the best ways for us to deal with this illegal immigration problem.”
The Department has, over the past few weeks, been “actively” trying to deal with the illegal immigration problem in the country through round-ups and roadblocks, he said.
In one instance, 141 individuals were apprehended and detained, based on information received from the public, it was revealed.
An estimated $2 million has been allocated to the Department of Immigration for repatriation exercises.
Meanwhile, several persons were charged before the courts in connection with working illegally and illegal hiring. Nine Jamaicans were charged with attempting to mislead an immigration officer and are incarcerated at Her Majesty’s Prison.
On Friday, August 1, the owner and captain of the vessel apprehended at Southern New Providence was charged before the court, pursuant to Section 47.1 of the Immigration Act for illegal landing and knowingly assisting in illegal landing. The penalty is $5,000 per passenger.
Eight Haitians were charged for attempting to mislead an immigration officer; four of them charged for being in possession of forged work permit documents.
On August 14, Bahamians are expected to appear before the court for hiring illegal immigrants, Mr McCartney revealed.
He also sounded a warning to individuals who are in The Bahamas illegally to return home “post haste”. Those facilitating illegal immigrants are also encouraged to stop immediately “because the laws would be harsh” when they are caught.
As of August 1, there were 341 illegal immigrants at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre. Of that number, 269 are from Haiti; two from China; 36 from Cuba; 15 from Jamaica; two from Guyana; 10 from the Dominican Republican; two from Nigeria; one from the Congo; one from Germany; one from Trinidad; one Belize; one from Peru; and one from Nicaragua.
The number of illegal immigrants repatriated to their respective homeland over the past eight years are as follows:
In the year 2000, 5,801; in 2001, 7,628; in 2002, 6,357; in 2003, 4,642; in 2004, 3,034; in 2005, 5,543; in 2006, 7,179; in 2007, 6,996 and from January to June 2008, 3,546.
From January to June 2008, the Department of Immigration has spent an estimated $517, 986 on repatriations. For the past two fiscal years, about $2 million has been allocated to the Department for repatriation expenses.
Security will be beefed up by way of cameras and other devices to assist the Royal Bahamas Defence Force in guarding the facility, which Mr. McCartney said is more secured than most detention centres around the world.
The Bahamas is in keeping with protocols under the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which protects ad supports refugees and assists in their return or resettlement, explained Director of Immigration Vernon Burrows.
“Some people think the most popular thing to would be to take drastic measures, but of course, we can’t do that. We have got to work within the framework that we have signed,” he said.