In recent months, Guyana imposed travel restrictions on Haitians entering the country and neighboring Suriname did basically the same. Now, nearby, The Bahamas, a favorite destination for desperate Haitian refugees, has begun an aggressive campaign to return more than 1000 Haitians who beached on some of its southeastern islands in the first week of October.
Authorities said this week they will repatriate every single Haitian who lands on any of its islands in the archipelago as the country of about 400,000 is already overrun with large numbers of Haitians who have made The Bahamas their home in recent decades. Latest estimates indicate that Haitians could account for more than 25 percent of The Bahamian population but the country’s new government says it is in no mood to accept anymore.
The administration of Prime Minister Phillip Davis, which won general elections just three weeks ago, said it has already sent back more than 500 while ordering the coastguard to deploy all of its assets to ensure additional boatloads of refugees do not land in some of its far flung southern islands.
Government says it has noted a spike in boat people heading north to The Bahamas in the aftermath of the early July assassination of Haitian President, Jovenel Moise as well as the obvious hardships stemming for the island’s most recent but devastating earthquake in mid-August. Bahamian Labor and Immigration Minister, Keith Bell and Minister of Security, Wayne Munroe also issued a joint statement vowing that the cabinet will take action to stem the flow of migrants to The Bahamas.
“The number one priority of the government is to defend the territorial sovereignty of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas while ensuring that the Bahamian people are protected. To this end, no resources will be spared as all involved agencies work towards addressing this situation. In the face of unprecedented levels of Haitian migrant activity that has inundated countries throughout the region, the government has taken decisive action to scale up operations. These measures have resulted in the interception of migrant vessels in the southern waters of The Bahamas, preventing passage into the central Bahamas near New Providence, where they were typically intercepted in past years. The routes to New Providence and other islands have effectively been cordoned off,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, Commodore Raymond King of the defense force said the US coast guard is also assisting with monitoring the high seas for people in not so safe vessels. Air wing planes are also conducting overflights, while the Cubans and intelligence officials in the neighboring Turks and Caicos Islands are also cooperating to monitor the situation.
“We have our intelligence sources. We are monitoring the movement and we have our vessels strategically positioned. We maintained a layered, strategic approach in addition to the blockade that is off the southern Bahamas. We also maintain a blockade here in the central Bahamas. In the event the southern border is breached, it will be extremely difficult for any vessel to reach New Providence,” (in the north and east) King also said.
The United Nations recently made an appeal for nations not to repatriate Haitians without humanitarian hearings and proper assessments of their situation, but local officials maintain that the country is already facing hardships linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tourism, the economic lifeline of The Bahamas is only now on the rebound from the pandemic as the mega cruise ships return and as the major international air carriers do the same.