NASSAU – As a result of the political unrest and violence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, the Bahamas government announced that it will temporarily cease all repatriations to the country.
Hours after that announcement on Saturday, authorities apprehended a Haitian sloop with 64 migrants on board, west of Compass Cay in the Exuma chain.
The announcement also came two weeks after the apprehension of 18 survivors of a Haitian sloop that ran aground in waters off Abaco. Thirty-one bodies were recovered and another 34 migrants were never found.
Violent protests have raged in Haiti since February 7, with protesters calling for the resignation of President Jovenel Moise over corruption allegations and skyrocketing inflation.
In a statement, the office of the prime minister said, “In anticipation of a potential increase of illegal migration from Haiti, Bahamian security forces have been placed on high alert.
“As a protective measure, the government is also preparing a temporary detention center in Matthew Town, Inagua, which will be staffed with personnel from relevant ministries and government agencies, as to deal with any resultant eventualities.
“Officials will continue to closely monitor the situation in Haiti.”
Additionally, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the temporary closure of the The Bahamas Embassy in Port-au-Prince and the recall of all diplomatic and consular staff.
The ministry said it is undergoing consultations regarding the matter, but noted that no consular services will be available in Haiti until the embassy reopens, “once the situation stabilizes”.
“The public is advised to contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on its out-of-hours number at +1-242-827-3106 if there is an emergency,” the ministry added.
It is unclear how many Haitian migrants are currently being detained at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre.
Yesterday, Director of Immigration Clarence Russell said 112 migrants were at the center, but he refused to say how many of them are Haitians. The Nassau Guardian subsequently learnt that there are 88 Haitians at the center (not including the 64 picked up on Saturday).
“We are anticipating a full house,” Russell advised.
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) also announced on Friday that it will suspend any pending deportations of Haitians, but did not indicate how long the moratorium may last, according to CBC news.
Back in 2010, an earthquake desolated Haiti, killing more than 220,000 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.
Then Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham decided to release all Haitian detainees from the detention center and grant them temporary status.
Approximately 100 Haitians were given amnesty.
The move was met by harsh criticism in some circles and created confusion over the government’s immigration policy.
In recent days, protesters have stoned the Haitian president’s home, clashed with police in the streets, blocked roads and set cars and tires ablaze, among other things.
Reports indicate that several people have been killed and many others injured.
Violence in the country’s capital continued to surge as food, water and gas became scarce and schools, businesses and government offices remained closed.
The latest unrest in Haiti comes just months after riots broke out on July 6, 2018 over the announcement of a plan to end fuel subsidies, which could have driven the price up by 50 percent.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) required Haiti to “enact a series of economic reforms in exchange for $96 million”.
Following the riots, former Haitian Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant resigned. (The Nassau Guardian)