Bahamas begins demolishing shanty communities

Prime Minister of The Bahamas, Phillip Davis.
Prime Minister of The Bahamas, Phillip Davis.

Bahamian authorities have begun demolishing dozens of shanty homes in two critical tourist provinces after the month-long notice period expired last week.

The more than 150 structures are largely owned by some locals and Haitian immigrants with their offspring. Authorities had been waging a more than year-long effort to deal with what they refer to as “unregulated communities” but were blocked by court injunctions and delays.

Prime Minister Phillip Davis said this week he does not anticipate any serious humanitarian or other crises linked to the demolition as adequate notice had been provided. Other senior officials have said that several state departments will be present during the demolition exercise to ensure there are no abuses and to render assistance to those who will lose homes to the operation.

“Let this action be a clear and unequivocal message that the government of The Bahamas has a zero tolerance policy towards illegal and unregulated structures,” Minister of  Works Clay Sweeting told reporters this week. “So we ensure that the Bahamians are assisted, but you have to realize this is a multi agency effort. You have immigration involved. Then you have persons who don’t have any permits, don’t have any papers that regulate them being in The Bahamas, which was dealt with the original day when the notices were issued. Then you have persons that have permits, but are not being taken care of by the permit holders. The work permit holder is obligated by law, that if you get a permit for an individual that you are to provide housing for them. That is immigration law,” he said.

As officials prepared to commence the exercise earlier this week, immigration and police rounded up and arrested what Immigration Minister Alfred Sears said were a number of undocumented migrants living in the Kool Acres shanty community in New Providence. “Those persons were taken and processed in the detention center to be presented to court. I will have to get a briefing to see where the process is with respect to those persons. The law is very clear. The task force has as part of its strategy to prosecute those persons who are facilitating” the presence of illegal migrants.

The demolition exercise is proceeding in spite of a fire a week ago that had destroyed dozens of structures in the same Kool Acres area, destroying 70 such homes. In all, authorities plan to dismantle 162 structures they refer to as unregulated and provide for poor aesthetics.

“After demolition, we will engage in a thorough assessment to ensure the sites remain secure against reestablishment of unregulated structures. We recognize the hardships many face, and efforts are underway to facilitate a smooth transition as possible for affected residents. But let there be no misunderstanding, safety, order and the rule of law will be upheld without compromise, Minister Sweeting said.”

Officials fear for the outbreak of deadly diseases such as cholera as some of the structures have inadequate hygiene systems among other problems. Bahamian authorities are very sensitive to aesthetics as tourism is the key economic driver for the mini archipelago off Florida.