The Hon. Frederick Mitchell, Minister Foreign Affairs and Immigration, on Fridayresponded to comments reported in the Jamaican press by the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, during a press conference at the Ministry for Grand Bahama. Shown from left are: Hubert Ferguson of the Department of Immigration; Minister Mitchell; and Minister for Grand Bahama, the Hon. Dr. Michael Darville. (BIS Photo/Phillip Curry)
FREEPORT, Grand Bahama – Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration the Hon. Fred Mitchell during a press conference at the Ministry for Grand Bahama on Friday responded to a report emanating from the press of Jamaica that during a visit to Jamaica, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) Jose Miguel Insulza made comments about the immigration policies of The Bahamas Government. The report in indirect speech said that the Secretary General had referred to “round ups” in The Bahamas of Haitians.
Minister Mitchell said no reports of “round ups” of Haitians should have been made by the office of the Organization of American States as the organization had been briefed on the Immigration policies of the Bahamas Government.
Minister Mitchell continued, “last evening, I instructed the Ambassador to the OAS Dr. Elliston Rahming to make an immediate call to the Secretary General for an urgent clarification of this report.” The Minister said he will meet with the Secretary General in Washington shortly.
Also present during the press conference were Minister for Grand Bahama, the Hon. Dr. Michael Darville and Mr. Hubert Ferguson of the Department of Immigration.
Minister Mitchell said he had not intended to comment publically about the content of the proposed meeting as the concerns raised by the Secretary General had been raised earlier with Bahamian officials. Minister Mitchell further stated that he has been advised that the Assistant Secretary General has been fully briefed on the policies and by extension, the organization. “Therefore any suggestion of the round up of people should not have been expressed from that office.
“The record will also show that I have repeatedly said: we do not round up people, you round up cattle.”
Minister Mitchell continued, “On 1st November, The Bahamas government put in place a simple administrative measure to stop fraudulent practices in applying for work permits and to ensure that all people who have the right to live and work in The Bahamas are fully documented.
“Immigration checks have been ongoing since we took office in 2012. Nothing new in that direction has occurred. We have repatriated over 3000 people since the start of the year to their home countries. Another two repatriation flights will follow next week. The Detention Centre is now at capacity.
“This report is yet another example of the unfortunate and ill informed commentary about these simple measures,” said Minister Mitchell.
Having spoken with Human Rights Activist and attorney Fred Smith yesterday in public, said the Minister, he said he told Mr. Smith “his comments where the policies were described as ‘ethnic cleansing’ were entirely unhelpful and extreme, particularly since there is nothing on which to base any such an assertion. The words are inflammatory and can lead to incitement. He needs to withdraw those comments and the defamatory statements made about immigration officers that are Gestapo like and involved in institutional terrorism.
“The intentionally inaccurate commentary often arises because of people in this country making wild and unfounded claims. There has not been a single report of abuse of any kind by any immigration officer reported to us since 1st November.”
Minister Mitchell said the other major political parties, the Free National Movement and the Democratic National Alliance, have indicated they have not heard of any either.
“I will be speaking to all countries in our immediate neighborhood in a few days to ensure that these false assertions do not make their way uncritically into some human rights report and then becomes a way of describing what goes on in The Bahamas.”
He further stated, “This is a completely open and transparent exercise. There has to be oversight by NGOs and there is oversight by them and by the Department of Social Services. The Department has a formal role. The NGOs have access to information and review upon request. Nothing is hidden. No particular group is the target of this exercise and people should stop spreading that falsehood. They should also stop using the term round up because no such exercises have taken place.”
With some speaking about the authority of Immigration officers on a constitutional basis, Minister Mitchell had this to say, “The power of arrest is contained in the Immigration Act. The constitution says that in the exercise of that discretion such an officer can do so only when there is a reasonable suspicion of an offence having been committed, in the process of being committed or about to be committed. The Immigration Department is aware of the constitutional standard and does not violate that standard.”