NASSAU – More than a week after a large empty sloop was discovered on the shoreline of Adelaide Beach, immigration officers have still not captured any of the Haitians suspected to have been on board, according to Kirklyn Neely, head of the Immigration Department’s Enforcement Unit.
However, Neely said the intensive search continues. Over the weekend, he said eight different nationalities were repatriated and he was arranging two Bahamasair flights for Haiti this week.
On Friday, Neely moved to dispel speculation the boat could have been used for another purpose because immigration officers have yet to find any of the boat’s passengers despite continued sweeps throughout the island, The sweeps, up to Friday, have led to the capture of 210 people and included various nationalities among them Haitian, American, Colombian, Peruvian and Jamaican.
Authorities believe the immigrants who landed last week 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.
Neely estimated between 150 to 250 undocumented migrants were on board the sloop.
The hunt for the migrants began last Sunday when the Royal Bahamas Defence Force said it was investigating reports of a wooden Haitian sloop landing in the southwest area of New Providence.
The ship came ashore sometime on the night of November 11 or the morning of November 12, the RBDF said, adding the number of suspected migrants on board were unknown.
“We still have no one from the boat, we got some information that they were in some bushes but when we got there no one was there,” Neely said. “It is important for Bahamian people to know that you cannot be hiding these people and that is what is happening.”
Neely also denied speculation that immigration officers were physically abusing people during the various raids throughout the island.
“Anyone found harbouring these illegal immigrants or any illegals will feel the full brunt of the law. We are not abusing anyone. You have to understand if a person was living in this country for years illegally when you try to take them in, they are not going peacefully. First and foremost, we have to protect the officers but immigration officers are courteous and kind to everyone but when you abuse us, we do what we have to do, but we do not abuse anyone.”
Neely also said the Department of Immigration is cracking down on people who are working outside of the scope of their work permits.
“What is happening is we are cracking down on people who are getting work permits from one person and they work for someone else. We will cancel permits on the spot,” Neely said.
“We will give people a warning but you cannot come here for one thing and do another. You can’t be working out of the scope of your permit and doing jobs that Bahamians can do.”
The intense immigration sweeps have angered local activist and attorney Fred Smith, QC.
Smith, president of Rights Bahamas (RB), has written to members of the government expressing displeasure about the “complete and intentional” breakdown of the rule of law regarding the actions of immigration officials and the RBDF.
“Almost every conceivable constitutional and or statutory right under the Immigration Act, the Police Act, the Criminal Procedure Code Act, and the Defence Force Act – except killings – continues apace in the targeting of non-citizens; this includes those RB refers to as citizens in waiting, referred to by the [Department of Immigration] and the executives of the government of the Bahamas, as ‘Illegals,’” Smith wrote.
“The breaches of such rights are also being visited upon the general population of the Bahamas, with the unlawful roadblocks, questioning, demands for ‘papers,’ and false imprisonments and detentions without charge, bail, or trial.”
RB has asked for the names of all persons in the custody of the Department of Immigration and the RBDF and their alleged offences.
“It is the intention of RB to move the Supreme Court for writs of habeas corpus in respect of all of the such persons.
“RB has also secured the services of a group of attorneys, and RB requests permission to visit the [Detention Centre] at the earliest to begin the process of securing the constitutional, statutory and human rights of all those persons in custody,” Smith wrote in part.