Nearly 1,000 Haitian migrants who illegally entered The Bahamas within the last week are expected to be repatriated by the end of the week, according to Minister of Immigration Keith Bell, who yesterday added that the government has information that more migrants are headed to The Bahamas.
“We anticipate repatriating 916 Haitians back to Haiti by the end of the week,” Bell said at a press conference.
“Now, that is very, very aggressive. That depends on whether we get the cooperation of the United States of America in terms of providing us with a carrier. That is contingent on whether we’re able to take one or two planes out of the fleet at Bahamasair to repatriate.
“That is contingent on whether or not we’re able to get the cooperation of the Haitian government to repatriate and, of course, we know that in the past, they turn around very, very quickly in terms of accepting their residents back.”
He said the government anticipates that repatriations will start as early as tomorrow.
Bell said Chief Magistrate JoyAnn Ferguson-Pratt flew to Inagua, where the majority of the migrants were being held.
“She’s there with another magistrate along with the administrator and they have commenced court proceedings from 9 a.m. this morning,” Bell said.
“They’re going to process those illegal immigrants very quickly. Once they’ve gone before the courts today, we anticipate working through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs — and I’ve already reached out to the. Hon. Fred Mitchell — to ensure that the repatriation is immediate and quick.”
On Wednesday, authorities apprehended 86 Haitian migrants off Inagua.
The Royal Bahamas Defense Force (RBDF) said that on Thursday evening, while en route to Inagua with a group of 70 migrants who were apprehended earlier in the day, marines aboard the HMBS Bahamas spotted another sloop just five miles west of Inagua with 151 Haitians on board.
According to the RBDF, 195 Haitian migrants were apprehended on Saturday in two separate incidents.
On Saturday morning, a sloop carrying 50 Haitians was intercepted off Inagua.
Later in the day, a sloop was spotted in the Ragged Island chain. Marines aboard an RBDF ship discovered 145 migrants on board.
The RBDF said 400-plus migrants were detained on Sunday after their vessel sank in the Ragged Island chain.
Bell said the government does not plan to take the hundreds of migrants who were found off Ragged Island to Inagua because there are already more than 500 migrants on the island.
Of the 900-plus migrants who arrived in recent days, 108 are women and children.
Seventy-five of them had already been brought to Nassau, according to Bell. The remaining women and children were also expected to be brought to the capital.
Bell said the migrants on Inagua were tested for various illnesses, including COVID-19.
He said those tests came back negative.
“…Among the group, we know there was some dehydration and one or two other aspects we are dealing with, which usually is the case when they come across these long voyages on these cramped vessels and they’re coming from the poorest parts of Haiti,” Bell said.
“We know that happens. But we have not come across [any] case to date that warrants serious concern that there is COVID among them.”
The recent spike in apprehended Haitian migrants in Bahamian waters follows months of deteriorating economic and social conditions in Haiti in the wake of the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse and a catastrophic earthquake.
Bell said the protection of The Bahamas’ border remains “very high” on the government’s agenda.
“We…purchased a number of different fleets, ocean-faring, those for coastal patrols and those for shallow waters,” he said.
“We have those deployed already. Minister [of National Security] Wayne Munroe is in direct communication with the commodore of the defense force to ensure that we block the channel between Inagua and Haiti and that is critical. And so, we’re deploying our assets in those areas.
“Of course, given the numbers, there is information that there may be more coming, and so I want to ask the fishermen out there — we have a number of fishermen in our area — to please ensure that you be on the lookout for these persons.”
Bell said there is a need to construct “a proper” multipurpose facility in Inagua.
He said the facility could be used to house migrants.
It could also be used as a hurricane shelter, according to Bell.