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2005-09-08 13:34:17

Peet To Investigate Abaco Immigrants

He called on Abaconians to work with the government and its relevant agencies in a bid to diffuse a situation that has been developing for 40-50 years.

Labour and Immigration Minister Vincent Peet has revealed that the government will look into the status of Haitian immigrants in Abaco.

He told the Guardian Monday that a number of applications are presently before the government for review.

"We are as a government dealing with a number of applications from Abaco of Haitians descendants, who would have been in The Bahamas say 20, 30, 40 years, some of them born here.

"And so while we take a firm hand in repatriating illegal migrants, we also are cognizant of our duty under the agreements and international conventions to regularise those who can establish their length of time and length of stay in the country," Minister Peet said.

This revelation came weeks after the Guardian highlighted the illegal immigration problem in Abaco in a hard-hitting series last month.

The articles also pointed to the growing tension between illegal and legal Haitians on the island.

Minister Peet described the Abaco situation as "most unfortunate."

"The atmosphere in Abaco is one that is not the norm, and it has always been a problem in terms of the numbers. There has always been tension and that is not the best thing. It is far from ideal and so we are working to try to see how best we can reduce that.

And so while we are taking a very firm position in sending out the country those who should not be here, at the same time we are reviewing individual applications for the persons who might establish some legal basis for being in the country," he explained.

"Any illegal immigrant who is here, and we can find them, then we shipped them out. If they are engaged in hostility towards Bahamians, then that makes them even more unwelcomed. If we can find whoever they are then we would certainly ship them out of the country," Minister Peet stressed.

But, he called on Abaconians to work with the government and its relevant agencies in a bid to diffuse a situation that has been developing for 40-50 years.

Minister Peet added that it is not going to be a simple one, but said the government is committed and determined to reduce the tension, "to do everything we can do in making sure that Bahamians in Abaco do not feel like the outsider."

According to the latest statistics released from the ministry, during the period Aug. 21-31, a total of 187 illegal immigrants were apprehended, processed and repatriated to their homeland. Of that number, there were 162 Haitians, 21 Jamaicans, three Peruvians and one Israeli. Since that period, Minister Peet said an additional 23 illegal Haitian were repatriated.

The figures for the year reveal from January to August that 3,196 illegal immigrants would have been apprehended, processed and sent to their respective homes, with the largest grouping being some 2600 Haitians, 343 Jamaicans and 154 Cubans.

The repatriation exercise would have cost the Government and the people of The Bahamas $477,108.

In the ministry's continued effort to address the illegal migration issue, a number of persons were charged before the court last week for employing illegal persons, working and entering the country illegally.

Minister Peet highlighted that Bahamian Philip King was found guilty of employing a Jamaican national. He was fined $1,500.

Additionally, eight Jamaicans were found working and fined $3,000 each, or two years imprisonment for failing to pay the fine. One Haitian national was fined $4,000 for illegal entry as well as for engaging in gainful employment.

Two Jamaicans were fined $3,000 each or given an alternative of spending two years in prison for overstaying.

As of September 1, the number of illegal immigrants at the Detention Centre stood at 136, including 114 Cubans with the others being a small number of Haitians, Jamaicans, Dominicans, two British, one Madagascar national, one Nigerian and one Honduran.

By: KEVA LIGHTBOURNE, The Nassau Guardian

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