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Call for immigration detention reform following UN conference
By Grand Bahama Human Rights Association
Oct 20, 2016 - 4:17:06 PM

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GBRHA secretary seeks talks with immigration officials after representing Bahamas at landmark international workshop in Trinidad

(Oct. 16) A local human rights activist is calling for a review of the country’s policy of detaining all undocumented migrants following a landmark regional workshop in Trinidad and Tobago.

The event, hosted by the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights (UNHCR) and the International Detention Coalition (IDC), focused on identifying laws, policies and practices that allow persons to reside in a community while their case is being processed, without being detained for migration-related reasons.

“Alternatives to detention (ATD) are becoming increasingly popular around the world,” said Paco Nunez, secretary of the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association (GBHRA). “The concept relies on a fundamental recognition that human liberty should be the norm and should only violated when absolutely necessary.

“Several countries have developed a number of fair, progressive and effective ATDs for people who lack regular status. The Bahamas could learn from these examples and become a leader in the region and an example to other small nations around the world.”

Nunez said it has been repeatedly proven the detention does not deter undocumented migration; is a continual drain on government resources; and poses a constant threat to a country’s international reputation through allegations of inhuman conditions, abuse and lengthy detention periods.

“We have to accept the realities: if a person needs to flee their country in fear for their life or to protect the safety of their children, they will go wherever they can and no criminal charge or threat of detention will stop them,” he said. “The result is a sector of society that exists outside the law.

“But if you engage with these people, officially register them and issue temporary identification while they are screened as asylum seekers or possible victims of human trafficking, you will find that they have in interest in respecting the process and obeying the law. In many countries, compliance with such measures is very high – even when deportation ends up being the outcome.”

Nunez said he was impressed by the alternatives being employed by other countries – from open reception centers and incentives in Spain, to freedom with regular reporting duties in Turkey, to temporary legal status with monitoring in Chile. He said these have proven to be far less costly yet still very effective strategies for dealing with undocumented migration.

“Today, there is some form of alternative to detention in more than 60 countries and many are extremely successful with compliance rates well above 90% and voluntary participation by migrants across the board,” he said. "National security is a serious concern when it comes to undocumented migration, but in a system where migrants have an interest or incentive for being registered, you know how is in your country, for how long and why."

Also representing The Bahamas at the conference were Donna Nicolls from the Bahamas Crisis Center and Patrick Wells from the Eugene Dupuch Law School.

“This was the first conference of its kind to be held in the Caribbean and The Bahamas was well and ably represented. It is hoped that this can represent the beginning of a change in perceptions,” Nunez said. “To that end, I will seek a meeting with Immigration officials  to discuss how The Bahamas can update its policy to take advantage of these progressive ideas.”

Nunez said that of particular importance is establishing a safe and fair system to accommodate children born to foreign parents until their 18th birthday, when they are entitled to be registered as Bahamian citizens upon application.

“There used to be something called a Certificate of Identity which served as official documentation for children in this situation, however this was recently revoked in favor of the ‘Belonger’s Permit’. This, applicants tell us, is much more difficult and in certain circumstances impossible to obtain because of the heightened requirements. It is also unclear if any such permits have been issued to date, despite the fact that the change was announced nearly two years ago.”

Nunez thanked the UNHCR and the IDC for inviting him to the workshop, and pledged to continue do all he can to further the cause of progressive human rights reform in The Bahamas.

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