Robbery Halts U.S. Visa Services

Wednesday 12th, June 2013 / 08:35 Published by

The United States Embassy suspended nonimmigrant visa services in The Bahamas on Monday, one day after a U.S. diplomat was assaulted and robbed in Nassau.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell told the House of Assembly yesterday afternoon that the U.S. government had informed him that the suspension was “as a result of the injury to its vice consul at the U.S. Embassy”.

The 74-year-old diplomat was accosted, robbed and injured on her way to St. Francis Xavier Cathedral on West Street around 11 a.m. Sunday, police said.

Mitchell noted that the matter was now with police.

He told Parliament, “Unfortunately, however, the embassy says that the absence from work of that officer means that no visa processing for Bahamians took place today (Monday) and the [Chargé d’ Affaires John Dinkelman] thought that this would be for an unspecified period of time.”

Mitchell added, “I made known our concern at these developments even while understanding the situation. I am happy to report that I have now been informed by the charge that visa processing will begin again tomorrow (Tuesday) morning.”

The embassy said in a statement nonimmigrant visa services provided by the Embassy’s Consular Section will be available on a reduced basis today.

The embassy said it intends to resume full nonimmigrant visa services tomorrow.

The Free National Movement (FNM) said in a statement the decision to suspend visa services “sent shockwaves throughout The Bahamas”.

“The FNM urges the government of The Bahamas to ensure that visitors and residents are protected against violence,” the statement said.

“Clearly, it must be possible for a visitor, in broad daylight to attend the Cathedral at West Street without being robbed.

“The FNM found the minister of foreign affairs and immigration’s emergency communication to Parliament woefully inadequate.

“In a conversation with the U.S. Embassy the FNM was given assurances that every effort will be taken to return visa services to Bahamian nationals to normality.”

More than a dozen people were turned away after waiting outside the embassy for hours yesterday morning.

Joanna Weinz, acting consular chief of the visa section, told them around noon that the embassy did not have the staff to process them.

“If we’re down officers, we don’t have the staff to process you and it could cause visa appointment delays in future,” Weinz said.

“It is not our fault our officer was assaulted and not here to do her job. It’s not our fault.”

A Belgium national among the crowd asked how one person could stop the entire visa operation.

He called the matter a scandal.

In response, Weinz said, “It is a scandal for us.”

Superintendent Paul Rolle, who heads the Central Detective Unit, said on Sunday a man approached the diplomat, threw her to the ground and stole her purse, cash and jewelry before escaping on a bicycle.

In a statement following the incident, the embassy said Sunday the event reaffirmed its serious concern for the safety of United States citizens residing in and visiting The
Bahamas.

Outside the embassy yesterday, some people insisted Bahamians should not be made to suffer.

Regina Johnson, a New Providence resident, said she did not understand why the embassy was “holding a nation of people — your people, my people — [responsible] for something that happened”.

“We are not holding anyone,” Weinz responded. “We are sorry too. It is not my decision.”

Several other residents told The Nassau Guardian the embassy was not considering the money they had spent in the process of applying for a visa.

“They’re saying that because of the lady that got robbed yesterday (Sunday) morning, which I am so sorry and hurt about, [they are closing],” Johnson said.

“They (criminals) have to stop doing this foolishness, but I don’t feel that they (embassy officials) should hold us hostage for one person when they can fly in someone from Miami or somewhere else in 20 to 25 minutes.”

Terry Frank, an Abaco resident, said while there was nothing he could do to change the embassy’s decision, the government must address crime in the country.

Naqeel and Burnie Russell, who traveled from Freeport yesterday, said they were let down, but the potential financial loss was more difficult to stomach.

“I had to pay for my plane ticket, I had to pay for my hotel and I have had to pay for my [appointment], and I don’t see any refunds on that, and I have to do the same thing over again,” Naqeel Russell said.

The embassy’s statement said that applicants who had interviews scheduled will be contacted to reschedule their appointments. Applicants may also call 1-888-762-3775 to reschedule.

By Royston Jones, Jr
Guardian Staff Reporter

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