The issues of the repatriation of economic refugees and citizenship, especially of people of Haitian descent, were extensively discussed during this public meeting of the Constitutional Commission held on Monday, February 4, 2013 at the British Colonial Hilton Hotel.
“We don’t have any problem with that,” said Mr. Cocheter about the fact that the vast majority of illegal Haitian migrants reaching Bahamian shores, economic refugees, are returned to Haiti under existing bi-lateral agreements. He further stated that other economic refugees who enter the country undetected “ should also be subject to immigration laws unless they have any specific claim for protection as a refugee that has been victim to trafficking or under Article 3 of the (United Nations) convention.” Over all, the UN High Commission’s Regional Representative had high praise for the Department of Immigration, pointing out that “considerable progress has been made” in the screening and processing of detained illegal immigrants by that department.
On the issue of statelessness, the UN official had some recommendations for the Commission: Conceding that under Article 1 of the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, The Bahamas has no legal obligation under International Law to grant automatic citizenship to a child born in The Bahamas to non-Bahamians, Mr. Cocheter recommended to the Commission that Bahamian nationality should be granted if the child would otherwise be stateless. This citizenship should be granted at birth or upon application shortly after birth.
He further recommended a limitation on the discretionary powers of the Government Minister with responsibility for Nationality and Citizen matters. Referring to the 1972 Nationality Act, Mr. Cocheter explained that the appellate process is not “explicitly regulated by the constitution” and under this law the Minister has quite a bit of discretionary power.
Under Bahamian law the Minister responsible is not legally bound by the recommendations of the Inquiry Committee upon review of a rejected citizenship application.
“Therefore, the UNHCR questions the effectiveness of such appeal rights,” noted Mr. Cocheter. He recommended a finite response time period for the Minister in these citizenship application matters. “You need to have a process that is a bit more predictable. The current process is very discretionary and people have no idea as to where their request ends – when they will get a reply as there is no time limit.”
Another recommendation offered by Mr. Cocheter was, consistent with the standards of UN 1961 Convention, applicants for naturalised Bahamian citizenship should not be required to renounce their current nationality before they are considered for a Bahamian citizenship as is the current legal requirement. This process creates undue inconvenience because if the application is rejected by The Bahamas, this stateless person must seek to reacquire his or her previous citizenship and that might not be possible.
As The Bahamas has not joined either the 1954 Convention on Statelessness and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, Mr. Cocheter recommended that The Bahamas join both UN Conventions.
The consultation of the Constitutional Commission continues with four Town Hall Meetings scheduled for Grand Bahama on Friday, the 8th February 2013. Public meetings will be held simultaneously in West End at the St. Mary Magdalene Parish Hall; in Eight Mile Rock at the Eight Mile Rock Gymnasium; in Freeport at the Foster D. Pestaina Centre and in High Rock at the East End School Hall. The meetings begin at 7pm and are expected to conclude at 9pm.
By Elcott Coleby
Bahamas Information Services