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2006-10-16 15:40:49

Human Smuggling Rings Probed

The boat that landed on the eastern foreshore of New Providence early Sunday morning with as many as 400 illegal immigrants may have been part of a smuggling ring under investigation by the Department of Immigration.

Minister of Labour and Immigration Shane Gibson told the Journal that as far as he was concerned, that boat and others like it are part of at least one smuggling operation bringing illegal immigrants into The Bahamas.

"No question about that," he said. "I mean the boat that came in Sunday – those individuals were smuggled in. So there's definitely no question in our minds that there's definitely a smuggling ring or perhaps quite a number of smuggling rings going on.

"It's just a matter of us moving in on it, and at the end of the day when we would have gathered all of our information then we would have to act on it. We are following some very promising leads at this time."

While he did not want to compromise the department's investigation by disclosing too much, the minister confirmed that immigration officials "did receive information that (the department) will be looking into further to determine at the end of the day whether or not the information is accurate."

Mr. Gibson confirmed that the Department of Immigration had received reports that there was at least one smuggling ring operating in the area of the eastern foreshore, and that the area was one of a number under active investigation.

"We are looking at something specifically in that area, because if you notice those boats that come into that area usually come a particular time, and usually land a particular spot, and so we are looking at something specific to that," he said.

"We are also looking at some other information as well because that's not the only area that we are experiencing problems in terms of landing of illegal immigrants."

Asked whether the term "smuggling ring" might apply to what immigration officials are investigating, Mr. Gibson was unequivocal.

While various reports had pegged the number of people rounded up from that boat that landed on the Eastern Road around 4am Sunday at between 100 and 200, Mr. Gibson put the number closer to 400 individuals.

The minister also asked for suggestions from the public on how to improve the effectiveness of immigration exercises to round up and deport large numbers of illegal immigrants.

"We have lots of individuals with different comments as to what's happening with the illegal immigration problem in The Bahamas," he said.

"What I would encourage members of the public to do is if they have suggestions…as to how we be effective in the apprehension exercises, how we could be more effective, because we have intelligence officers who go out there and gather information for us, but we are open to suggestions…so I encourage them to send those suggestions in to us."

Mr. Gibson acknowledged that "there is a serious problem with illegal immigrants, and where we don't set out to inconvenience anybody, at times individuals are inconvenienced, which we don't want to do, but if members of the public who have a better way of us gathering the large numbers…we welcome recommendations."

By: Quincy Parker, The Bahama Journal

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