Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration the Hon. Fred Mitchell announced a series of meetings for Abaco to educate and inform residents of a planned Immigration exercise for that island.
Minister Mitchell was in Grand Bahama Friday, January 2, and stated that on the third and fourth of January, there will be four meetings in Abaco from the north to the south involving Local Government and Christian Council leaders of Abaco, and other opinion makers.
The meetings, he said, will be held first in Coopers Town on Saturday followed by a meeting in Marsh Harbour that evening; then in Hope Town on Sunday, followed by a final meeting in Sandy Point Sunday night.
“The idea is to sensitize the community to the fact of a more aggressive system of checking which will be unfolding over the next three months.
He continued, “many people have indicated, although we do not agree with it, that these changes somehow took place without warning even though we have been talking about it for over two years.
“The fact is now we are going to use this approach to say to people that one of the ways you can get your house in order is to of course voluntarily repatriate yourself to your home country, to voluntarily withdraw, or get your paperwork in order,” he said.
According to the Minister no time limit has been put on this but it is fair warning to the society at large. He also advised that there are similar operations being planned for Eleuthera and Exuma, where there are complaints of a similar nature, and the complaints are that people simply seem to believe that you can operate in a country without the proper Immigration permission and paperwork, and that needs to change.
“We also have people who come in as tourists and then begin working in high profile jobs all the while pretending they are tourists and that must come to a stop.
“And then, this feeding illegal migration by thinking all you have to do is just come into a community like Abaco, melt into the community and then you just get adopted somehow, and you get rights to stay there. So, all of that has to stop and the meeting is really meant to discuss with community leaders how best to go about approaching this,” he stated.
Acknowledging that Abaco has one of the most serious immigration problems the Minister said it is a longstanding issue and a community relations problem that has to be handled with some sensitivity.
He said that obviously there are some people who have been in The Bahamas for a long time, and the Government has certain treaty obligations with regards to those who have been living in The Bahamas prior to 1985, which will be adhered to.
Secondly, he pointed out that there is a class of people who were born in The Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents and they have certain rights or expectations which they have to apply for; but if they have not applied it means that they “don’t have the lawful authority to be in the country and so they need to get the paperwork in order otherwise you are going to be subject to deportation.
“As harsh at that is, that is where we are right now. I think the country is so exercised over this immigration issue that we need to get it under control and the measures are just going to be strictly enforced now.”
Mr. Mitchell also took issue with comments made recently regarding the handling of children terming it a “storm in a tea cup.”
“Again, you have this activist here in Grand Bahama painting a false picture of that, and it’s really done in my view to try and sap the will of the public on this issue. The facts on those matters with regards to children are quite plain.
“The children they alleged were somehow not handled properly by immigration officers, that was false. We know that it was demonstrated to be false, and the Prime Minister asked for separate facilities and those facilities are now in place so those issues don’t arise,” he said.
Continuing, the Minister said he feels “that there is psychological warfare going on here where what they are trying to do is portray a picture of a bureaucracy that is insensitive and abusive, and every day they are trying to overwhelm us with these images in the press and on social media that somehow there is something untoward being done here.
“But, there is no mischief here to cure. The fact is if you are a non-national living in The Bahamas, you need to have the passport of your nationality and something that indicates that you have the permission to be here from Immigration.
“That is a simple thing and it is not complicated and there is nothing abusive about it, and I would only urge Bahamians themselves to not become victims of this sabotage or attempt at sabotage of our national will by portraying these false pictures and images in the press,” he said.
He also took the opportunity to warn individuals about being abusive to Immigration Officers, saying that they have a job to do and that we ought to be patient, and the law will be carried out.