Bahamas minister corrects OAS chief on immigration policy

FredMitchell-2Nassau, Bahamas — Foreign affairs and immigration minister Fred Mitchell said on Friday that secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS) Jose Miguel Inzulza was “ill informed” when he referred to the Department of Immigration’s efforts to limit illegal migration in The Bahamas as “round ups”.

In a statement, Mitchell said a report by the Jamaican press on Thursday referred to Inzulza’s comment using “indirect speech”.

He said the report is another example of the “unfortunate and ill-informed commentary about these simple measures”.

He said he instructed Bahamas ambassador to the OAS Dr Elliston Rahming on Thursday night to immediately contact the secretary general for “urgent clarification”.

“I am to meet the secretary general in Washington shortly,” Mitchell said.

“I did not propose prior to now to make any public comment about the content of that proposed meeting because the concerns raised earlier by the secretary general had been raised in camera with our officials.

“I am advised that the assistant secretary general was briefed fully on the policies and by extension the organization.

“Therefore, any suggestion of the round up of people should not have been expressed from that office.

“The record will also show that I have repeatedly said, we do not round up people. You round up cattle.”

Mitchell has repeatedly defended The Bahamas’ reputation over its immigration policy amid backlash from some organizations in the international community.

The policy took effect on November 1.

At least two international organizations have expressed strong concerns over the policy.

On Monday, Amnesty International alleged that the government’s policy is “leading to human rights violations” in The Bahamas.

Other critics are Florida State Representative Daphne Campbell, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center), Fred Smith, attorney and human rights activist, and Haitian ambassador to The Bahamas Antonio Rodrigue.

The RFK Center expressed alarm over the “discriminatory use of the new immigration policies in The Bahamas”.

Mitchell was expected to travel to Miami on Saturday to address what Prime Minister Perry Christie has called “misinformation” regarding the policy.

“The internationally inaccurate commentary often arises because of people in this country making wild and unfounded claims,” Mitchell said.

“There has not been a single report of abuse of any kind by any immigration officer reported to us since 1st November.”

Both the Free National Movement and the Democratic National Alliance said they have not received any reports of human rights violations.

They expressed support for the policy.

“This is a completely open and transparent exercise,” Mitchell said.

“There has to be oversight by NGOs and there is oversight by them and by the Department of Social Services.

“The Department has a formal role. The NGOs have access to information and review upon request.

“Nothing is hidden. No particular group is the target of this exercise and people should stop spreading that falsehood.

“They should also stop using the term round-up because no such exercises have taken place.”

The new policy requires all non-Bahamians to have passports of their nationalities and evidence that they have permission to live and work in the country.

The Department of Immigration will not issue certificates of identity to non-nationals born in The Bahamas.

The exception to this is when Bahamians need emergency travel or “where in accordance with our international obligations”.

The Department of Immigration will not accept first-time applications for residence or work permits from those who have no legal status in The Bahamas.

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