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Amid The Devastation In Abaco, Bahamas, The Conversation Turns To ‘Illegal Immigration’

By Felicia J. Persaud

News
Americas, FORT LAUDERDALE, FL, Fri. Sept. 13, 2019:
It’s hard for many to imagine that illegal
immigration is also a problem for some Caribbean nations, including the
hurricane devastated northwestern Bahamas.

Many
see it as mainly a US or European dilemma. But unfortunately, in the largely
black and brown region of the Caribbean, the same sort of xenophobic sentiments
expressed by some Americans towards immigrants here in the U.S., also exists in
many regional countries.

In
the midst of the catastrophic Hurricane
Dorian, which unleashed its category 5 strength on Abaco and Grand Bahama islands
in The Bahamas, the conversation has quietly turned to the hot button issue of illegal
immigration on the island.

Why?
Because Abaco was home to many Haitian immigrants, some undocumented, who lived
in the Haitian shantytowns called The Mudd and Pigeon Peas in Great Abaco
Island’s Marsh Harbor area. It is unclear how many were undocumented.

What
is known according to data compiled by W.J. Fielding, et al., from 2005 for The
Stigma of Being “Haitian” in The Bahamas from The College of The Bahamas
Research Journal, is that Haitians represented conservatively 16.9 percent of
the population on Abaco while Haitian children accounted for some 31.3 percent
of those enrolled in schools on the island. Overall, they represent about
80,000 of the 350,000 people across The Bahamas.

As
Dorian receded from the island on Tuesday, Sept. 3rd, and the reality
of the widespread devastation came to view of the world, it became quickly
obvious that the shantytowns many of these Haitians called home, far away from
the flashy tourist resorts, had completely disappeared.

Nassau
Guardian reporters on the ground on Abaco reported seeing several dead bodies
in The Mudd area even as shell shocked residents like Haitian born Aliana
Alexis, stood grief stricken on the concrete slab of what was left of her home,
arms outstretched, head raised to heaven as if asking silently: “Why me God?.”

Geoffrey Farquharson, who practices law in Nassau,
told the Catholic Diocese newspaper in Miami, that the settlements were built
illegally on waste ground because nobody had good use for that land.  “When the hurricane came it was
obliterated — many there were completely off-the-grid persons living in the
shadows with no passport or papers,” he was quoted as saying.

Haitian
Charge d’Affaires in the Bahamas, Dorval Darlier, brought the issue of illegal immigration
more into the spotlight on Sept. 5th, outside the National Emergency
Management Agency, (NEMA) headquarters in Nassau, Bahamas. There to offer his
country’s help to get supplies to Haitians in Abaco desperate for help, he urged many fellow Haitians who are in the
country “illegally” to call the consulate for help and not be concerned with
fears of deportation.

“It is not about fear right now. … These people,
they are here. It is not about who is legal or illegal. It is about helping
people,” he was quoted as saying in the Nassau Guardian.

But Darlier’s most profound statements followed. “The
tragedy transcends issues of nationality and origin. in the aftermath of
Hurricane Dorian,” he stated. “It’s not about Bahamian. It’s not about Haitian.
It’s not about the flag color, as the prime minister said. It’s all about
helping.”

Dorian is right. In a country where the attitude of
many, including the government, has been hardening towards Haitians and especially
those undocumented in recent years, one can only pray that all storm victims,
legal or not, will receive the same level of support and help that transcends
nationality and status.

And most of all, that the government of the Bahamas, may find it prudent in the weeks and months to come, to grant the undocumented Caribbean brothers and sisters among them, some sort of pathway to earned legalization. After all, we are supposedly One Caribbean aren’t we?

felicia-j-persaud-hard-beat-alt

The
writer is publisher at NewsAmericasNow

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