Published On:Tuesday, September 15, 2009
By MEGAN REYNOLDS
Tribune Staff Reporter
HAITIAN Bahamian communities in Abaco's overcrowded shanty towns are still reeling six weeks after the Immigration Department allegedly used violence as they tore families apart in a large-scale apprehension exercise.
Residents of the Mud and Pigeon Peas in the heart of Marsh Harbour said Immigration and Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) officers carried cutlasses, threatened children with guns and used violence as they detained at least 165 Haitians of all ages and separated them from their families at around 4am on July 30.
Sources in the Mud, home to thousands of Haitians and Haitian Bahamians, told The Tribune how children were left behind as their parents were detained and then sent to Haiti, and Bahamians born of Haitian parents were forced to bid farewell to relatives and friends, some of whom had lived in the Bahamas for decades.
Anxiety and a solemn mood has since taken hold of the community which can only hope for better treatment in future.
A 30-year-old Haitian man who moved to the Bahamas 15 years ago, and lives in the Mud, said officers threatened children as young as five at gunpoint and ordered them to divulge their parents' whereabouts.
They knocked down doors and commanded men and women to come out of their homes without allowing them to dress before they were detained, he said.
And the man, who asked to remain anonymous, said he knows of a two-year-old child and an eight-year-old boy whose parents were sent to Haiti while they remain in the care of relatives or friends in the Mud.
He said: "Little kids were left here while their parents were sent back home. There is boy, eight or nine, who is staying with a friend of mine, and a little baby, two years old, whose parents were taken during the raid.
"They were very hard this time. They beat people, hitting them in the face so they are bleeding. They took money, so if they had $1,000 in their pocket they would maybe give them $50 and keep the rest. If they found food or drink in their homes they took it. They took everything.
"There was one man who came out in his boxer shorts and they didn't let him take anything, they just took him like that."
Haitian Bahamians, born in the Bahamas to Haitian parents, are angry about the way their parents, relatives and friends were treated in the raids at Sand Banks, near Treasure Cay, and the Mud and Pigeon Peas in Marsh Harbour.
They were among the crowd which swarmed the Immigration Department, across the street from the Mud, to take food and documents to those who were about to be sent back to Haiti on the morning after the raid, while employers lined up to present work permits to Immigration authorities.
The Tribune's source, who was taken to Nassau from Port-de-Paix, north west Haiti, at just 15, said he has held ten work permits since moving to the Bahamas.
But in order to obtain a new work permit he would need to return to Haiti to obtain a doctor's certificate and police certificate for the Immigration Department.
He said: "People who have their Bahamian passports or work permits feel they can sleep at night, but otherwise you are always glancing over your shoulder to see what's going on.
"The raids are becoming more frequent, and more violent.
"I don't like how they treat the people, the way they break down your door - they don't even wait for you to answer. I don't feel good there."
An Abaco employer who spoke to The Tribune on the condition of anonymity, criticised the application process for Haitian migrants he wants to hire.
The employer submitted a work permit application for a 35-year-old man who returned to Haiti in April, and is still waiting for his medical and police records to be approved by the Immigration Department so he can return to Marsh Harbour and start work.
He said: "Every time they switch jobs they have to go back to Haiti, but they only need to fulfill the same criteria they needed for the previous work permit.
"The government needs to have a clear guideline that tells you how eligible (an applicant) may be, taking into consideration whether they have had a work permit before or not.
"It's ridiculous that we are doing the right thing by applying for the permit for this guy, and he is down there starving."
Director of Immigration Jack Thompson said the Department is looking into ways of speeding up the application process, but must also ensure applicants are in good health and are not a threat to community safety before they allow them to live and work in the Bahamas.
He said the raids always provoke reaction and while they are appreciated by some, they are condemned by others.
Mr Thompson maintains the raid was carried out properly and the allegation of officers wielding cutlasses is "absurd".
He added: "Children should not be left behind and if that happened I don't know how it happened.
"I know there is a degree of anger, pain and disgust out there, but that should not happen. That's against everything we stand for.
"When we go in we deal with the whole family and work with them as a group. It makes no sense to take the mother and father and leave a child, I don't know what's happened but the people involved should step forward."