NASSAU – The Department of Immigration is conducting massive sweeps of known “areas for Haitian migrants” after a large empty sloop was discovered on the shoreline of Adelaide Village Sunday afternoon.
In an interview with The Tribune, immigration director William Pratt said he “had no idea” how such a large sloop could land so close to the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) Coral Harbour Base and go undetected, but suggested the RBDF should perhaps “improve their surveillance”.
Authorities believe the immigrants who landed on Sunday had help from people already on New Providence and yesterday warned anyone who was found to be hiding them would be jailed, fined or both.
Kirklyn Neely, head of the Department of Immigration’s Enforcement Unit, said he estimated between 150 to 250 undocumented migrants were on board the sloop. He said immigration officers apprehended 27 immigrants on Monday in an effort to gain information on the people who landed illegally the day before. None of the people caught were on board that vessel.
The hunt for the migrants began on Sunday when the RBDF said it was investigating reports of a wooden Haitian sloop landing in the southwest area of New Providence.
The ship came ashore sometime Saturday night or early Sunday morning, the RBDF said, adding the number of suspected migrants on board were unknown.
Officers conducted a search of the immediate area but did not capture anyone from the vessel.
Yesterday, Pratt said the search for the migrants was ongoing and would be for days to come.
“An extensive search of the area was conducted today (Monday),” Pratt said.
“We do not know how the boat came in undetected. We did a sweep of the main area but the search was also extended to areas where we know a lot of Haitians are concentrated. So for the rest of the week, we will be picking up illegal immigrants every day, whether they were on the boat or not, until we get the persons that came on the sloop. Honestly, I do not know how the boat was not seen, seeing that it was so close to the base but maybe they need to reevaluate their surveillance – but it’s quite unusual.”
Meanwhile, Neely sent a strong message to anyone who may be housing or hiding the immigrants.
“We were able to capture 27 people including Haitians, Jamaicans and Colombians who were here illegally. This kind of search will continue all week until we get the people who were on the boat,” Neely said.
“We have questions – where did the boat come from? What time did it leave and were there any children who were on the boat? I also want to send a strong message to people, there is a fine or jail time or both if you are caught hiding illegals. All those people did not disappear without any help. There is also a misconception I want to clear up. The Immigration Act specifically says the burden of proof is on the individual who is living and working in this country. We have seen fraudulent spousal permits and work permits and birth certificates, so have your documentation on you at all times.”
The total number of undocumented migrants apprehended by the RBDF for the year is approximately 1,100. Half of these apprehensions were made jointly with local immigration and police authorities officers as well as the United States Coast Guard, the RBDF said.