The Bahamas’ government has said it cannot afford to smilingly accept hundreds of Haitian boat people who try to flee to the nearby CARICOM nation each month, saying that an open border policy to Haitians would put severe pressure on the country’s economy.
Prime Minister Phillip Davis told reporters this week that this is the reason why The Bahamas did not sign on to what he called an irregular migration declaration at last month’s Summit of the Americas in California given the archipelago’s peculiar circumstances.
He spoke in the aftermath of the deaths by drowning of 17 people, including an infant, and the rescue of 25 Haitians off the coast of The Bahamas late last week. Police said they believed they were in a go-fast boat trying to reach the Florida coast when their vessel capsized. Up to 60 people were believed to be on the boat so more bodies are expected to wash up in the coming days, officials said.
“We are unable to open our borders to irregular migration and or refugees either because of our own limited resources and because they ask us to do things but, at the end of the day, who foots the bill? You, the taxpayers. The world is suggesting that we should absorb all of those who leave Haiti. That’s what they will say to me,” Davis said. Officials have put the local Haitian population in The Bahamas at more than 25 percent given the large numbers of boat people arriving over the decades.
He also said that a group of regional prime ministers including the heads of government of Barbados, St. Vincent, Jamaica and The Bahamas are on standby to lead a fact-finding mission to Haiti if and when the security situation improves.
No date for any CARICOM mission has even been touted, but officials at the Guyana-based CARICOM Secretariat have poured cold water on a pronouncement by PM Davis that the prime ministerial team intends to engage Haiti’s feuding gang leaders if and when they visit.
“The situation in Haiti is very serious and we don’t know what the outcome will be. There are talks about imposing the will of other countries on the people but, again, as I said, we want it to be a Haitian solution. Whether that is possible, we will only know as we engage with the gang leaders in Haiti, which we intend to do very shortly.”
The officials said that no one would risk the safety of the prime ministers in engaging gang leaders, referring to the communique at this month’s main leaders summit in Suriname where reference was made to the possibility of a team engaging Haitian officials if the situation improves.
Police have arrested several Bahamian suspected human smuggling traffickers and are expected to indict them on murder and related charges.
“We are to engage very soon in attempting to bring the factions together. At the moment, it’s just gang wars. It is a failed state as we speak. Efforts to bring the warring parties, and I say the gang leaders together, are en train as I speak,” Davis told reporters.