‘Let Sanity Prevail’: Immigration minister calls for end to xenophobia, arbitrary harassment as protests continue


Coalition of Independents supporters line barricades erected on Parliament Street during their protest yesterday.

Opposition says government has “thrown in the towel” on Haitian migration issueCOI stages ‘peaceful’ immigration protest at Parliament

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Minister of Labour and Immigration Keith Bell yesterday called for Bahamians to “let sanity prevail” as tensions rise among some over the uptick in irregular migration due to the deepening crisis in Haiti.

Bell acknowledged the country was challenged but insisted officials were ready and “with God’s grace and mercy, we will ride this wave.”

His comments came as the Coalition of Independents, led by Lincoln Bain, staged an immigration protest over what they perceived to be the government’s inaction and the rejection of their proposed immigration legislation.

Bell said: “In this democratic society, we believe that persons have a qualified right to assemble and peacefully protest, certainly protests are often necessary. To the protesters and their calls for action – ours is an open government. We are always open to listen. Indeed at a previous protest, I received a proposal that was reviewed and considered. I would ask everyone to ensure that whilst we face these challenges, let sanity prevail.

“We are a Country of laws and the maintenance of law and order must remain a cornerstone of our Country. Xenophobia has no place in The Bahamas nor does the arbitrary harassment of any person on the basis of any perception as to their nationality. To those doing it – stop!”

Meanwhile, Opposition leader Michael Pintard yesterday accused the Davis administration of having “thrown in the towel” on the irregular Haitian migration issue, and said he will move Parliament to call for a select committee on immigration.

Pintard said he was disturbed by recent pronouncements by Prime Minister Philip Davis, and argued the government should be doing more to stem the flow of illegal migrants from that country.

“The Prime Minister has gone as far to assert that his government is doing all that it can to address the obvious upswing in the number of Haitian migrants seeking to illegally land and live in The Bahamas,” Pintard said.

“To add insult to injury, the Minister of Foreign Affairs is on record suggesting that The Bahamas does not have a Haitian problem and that it is Haiti which has problems. Additionally, the Minster of Immigration, Keith Bell who recently asked what crisis, appears to be signaling our willingness to grant asylum to Haitian nationals that are threatened in their country.”

In a statement last week, the Ministry of Labour and Immigration sought to clarify false reports on social media that purported Bell had announced that he will be giving asylum to all Haitian immigrants threatened by the situation in Haiti. The fake report also suggested there would no longer be a need for work permits.

The report used video from a recent press conference where Bell announced the temporary ban on the issuance of new work permits for Haitians until a new identification and screening process could be implemented.

Pintard continued: “We sincerely empathize and sympathize with the plight of our Haitian brothers and sisters, however, we cannot continue to accept every distressed Haitian national seeking to find sanctuary in our developing country which has a myriad of challenges of its own.

“Moreover, it is also our considered view that the government ought to be doing far more to stem the flow of illegal Haitian migrants entering The Bahamas. Our government should vigorously petition Haitian officials, CARICOM, the Organization of American States, and the United Nations to take more deliberate actions toward addressing Haiti’s longstanding political and security challenges, and the resulting impact on nations such as the Bahamas. There is a need for urgent short-term actions as we diligently roll out the medium to long-term strategic plan,” said Pintard.

At a meeting with regional leaders last month, Davis yesterday warned the crisis in Haiti poses substantial threats to The Bahamas and neighboring countries due to the significant increase in “irregular and often dangerous” migration.


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