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JUNE 1994 CONTENTS I. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY II. INTRODUCTION III. THE DETENTION AND REPATRIATION OF RECENT REFUGEES . . IV. THE TREATMENT OF HAITIANS RESIDENT IN THE BAHAMAS . . A. HARRASSMENT, ARBITRARY DETENTION & POLICE BRUTALITY B. CITIZENSHIP .................... C. WORK PERMITS.................... V. CONCLUSION ..................... VI. RECOMMENDATIONS ...................
I. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
This report presents the findings from a fact-finding tour of the Bahamas which took place between April 17 and 24, 1994, with the purpose of assessing and analyzing the conditions of Haitians in the Bahamas.
The fact-finding delegation was organized by the Yale Law School Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic and was composed of lawyers, law students, Haitian refugee workers and a documentary film crew, joining together with the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association, whose executive director supervised the trip. Members of the delegation were highly experienced in human rights and immigration matters generally and in Haitian refugee and asylum issues specifically The group visited four islands, meeting with members of the Haitian community, involved members of the local clergy, the Haitian ambassador (of the Aristide government) to the Bahamas, local attorneys, and one Bahamian senator (who was not representing the Bahamian government). Official representatives of the Bahamian government consistently refused to meet with the group.
This report concludes that the Bahamian government's treatment of Haitians is in gross violation of internationally recognized human rights norms. At the time of writing this report, hundreds of Haitians are being held in a barbed wire detention camp on Carmichael Road near Nassau. Many of these are seeking refuge in the Bahamas from present political terror and persecution in Haiti, and others are long-time residents of the Bahamas who have been arrested on the streets or at their homes. In many instances, these people are being forcibly repatriated with minimal, if any consideration of their claims to refugee status and in spite of the danger they face upon return to Haiti. More generally, current Bahamian policies toward recent arrivals and long-time Haitian residents alike establish a regime of violence, intimidation, and exploitation that is forcing many to flee the islands
The delegation witnessed numerous serious human rights violations.
but one of the most egregious was the Bahamian government's program of forced repatriation. During the time that the fact-finding mission was present in the country, Bahamian government officials deported hundreds of Haitians who had recently fled Haiti and who were being held at the detention center outside Nassau. Reports from a more recent visit of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights indicate that the government has begun to round up people from the streets for detention and deportation-- even those who have lived in the Bahamas for many years.
At the time of the Yale delegation's visit, although staff members from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) were present, the circumstances suggested minimal--if any-meaningful processing of claims for political asylum. After interviewing many of these detainees and inspecting documents they carried with them indicating their political affiliations, we have no doubt that many of those repatriated had legitimate asylum claims and now face extreme danger in Haiti.
The treatment of the thousands of Haitians who are long-time residents of the Bahamas likewise violates fundamental norms of human equality and dignity. Repeated raids, beatings, jailings, and deportations are supplemented by an exploitative work permit system and an arbitrarily administered program for conferring citizenship. As a result of these governmental policies, thousands of Haitians in the Bahamas are easy targets for unscrupulous employers and abusive immigration authorities.
May 1993 brought a high-water mark of abuse toward Haitian residents in the Bahamas. In a series of midnight "roundups," hundreds of Haitians were arrested and summarily deported. Since then, smaller raids and sporadic late-night "visitsN by immigration authorities to Haitian communities maintain a high level of anxiety in the Haitian population. These and other actions by the Bahamian authorities are driving Haitians by the hundreds to risk their lives in renewed flight from danger.
Routinely, Bahamian officials arrest Haitians and offer them the "choice" between buying their own tickets back to Haiti and suffering indefinite imprisonment at Fox Hill Prison, identified by Amnesty International as the fourth worst penal institution in the world. Under
current procedures for implementing the Bahamian constitutional provisions on citizenship, even children and teenagers born in the Bahamas of Haitian parents are potentially subject to such treatment.
In addition, the work permit process resembles indentured servitude. A Haitian worker depends on the mercy of his or her employer for legal status and protection, and the bureaucratic delays in the process create numerous opportunities for abuse.
In sum, Bahamian policies and attitudes toward Haitians have created a human rights crisis. II. INTRODUCTION
This human rights fact-finding delegation was conceived as a joint effort by the Grand Bahamas Human Rights Association, the Center for Constitutional Rights (New York), and the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic of the Yale Law School. Participants also included representatives from the Haitian Refugee Center (Miami) and Crowing Rooster Arts (New York), a documentary film crew with experience in Haitian issues.
The group sought to follow-up on earlier reports by the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association of September 1993, which supplemented the July 1993 Report of the Caribbean Human Rights Network, entitled "Haiti: Beleaguered Nation of the Caribbean," and "For Haitian Refugees . . . It's Not Better in the Bahamas: A Preliminary Report on the Conditions of Haitian Refugees in the Bahamas,N prepared subsequent to the June 1993 visit of representatives of the Haitian Refugee Center to the Bahamas.
Participants in the delegation included:
D'Arcy Ryan, Executive Director, Grand Bahama Human Rights Association.
Michael Ratner, Attorney, Center for Constitutional Rights, New York, NY
Laura Dickinson, Russ Sizemore, and Jerry Speir, Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, Yale Law School, New Haven, CT
Rolande Dorancey and Jacotte Previlus, Haitian Refugee Center, Miami, FL.
Rudi Stern, Katherine Kean [Check this], and David Belle, Crowing Rooster Arts, New York, NY.
During the week of April 17-24, 1994, the group visited the islands of Grand Bahama, Abaco, Eleuthera, and New Providence. Persons interviewed by the delegation are listed below. This is a partial listing as many of the Haitians interviewed requested not to be identified:
On Grand Bahama- Fred Smith (Attorney), President, Grand Bahama Human Rights Association
Joseph Darville, Vice-President, Grand Bahama Human Rights Association
Lee Percentie, Secretary, Grand Bahama Human Rights Association
Jetta Baptiste, President, Grand Bahama Haitian Bahamian Society
John Anthony Charles
Father Remy David
On Abaco- Father Stan Kolasa Pastor Robinson Weatherford
On Eleuthera- Father Joe Doran
On New Providence- Hon. Joseph Etienne, Haitian Ambassador to the Bahamas
His Excellency Lawrence Burke, Catholic Bishop to the Bahamas
Senator Fred Mitchell
Mary Reckley, New Providence Bahamian Haitian Cultural Association
James McAnulty, Chief Political Officer, U.S. Embassy
Bahamian government officials consistently refused to meet with he group. On Monday, the delegation interviewed members of the community in and around Freeport on Grand Bahama. In a morning meeting, representatives of the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association and Jetta Baptiste, the president of the Freeport Haitian Bahamian Society, informed the delegation of the main problems facing Haitians in the area. During the afternoon, the group conducted interviews with members of the Freeport Haitian communities, especially those living in and around the settlement known as Eight Mile Rock. That evening, the group attended a large meeting of over 200 Haitian residents in a local church and listened to their assessments and complaints.
On Tuesday, the fact-finding mission investigated conditions on Abaco. After a morning interview with Father Stan Kolasa, a Catholic priest active in providing relief to Haitians on the island, Pastor Robin Weatherford guided the group on a visit to the local communities known as Pigeon Peas and The Mud.
On Wednesday, the delegation observed the situation on Eleuthera in the company of Father Joe Doran. The group met with Haitian farm workers in the fields, visited Haitian settlements, and also spoke with local Bahamians (both black and white) about the situation of Haitians in their society.
Thursday through Sunday were spent on New Providence, in and around Nassau, talking with public officials, meeting with members of the local Haitian community, and inspecting the Carmichael Road Detention Center that had been created to hold recent Haitian arrivals. On Thursday night the group attended a large meeting at a local church at which Haitian residents described the abuses they face daily.
Broadly, human rights violations suffered by Haitians in the Bahamas fall into two categories (a) the treatment of recent arrivals and (b) the treatment longer-term residents and persons born in the Bahamas of Haitian parents. Collectively, Bahamian policies are designed to hold the Haitian population in a state of fear and poverty, and, when convenient, to force Haitians out of the country.
III. THE DETENTION AND REPATRIATION OF RECENT REFUGEES
The Bahamian government's treatment of Haitians living in theBahamas is a human rights emergency. Both long term Haitian residents of the Bahamas and recent arrivals from Haiti suffer serious abuses of their fundamental human rights. The delegation had planned to focus almost exclusively on the problems facing long-term residents. However, the focus of the fact-finding mission shifted when the Bahamian government began its most recent program of forcible repatriation-- even while the delegation was in the country.
A. CONDITIONS IN THE CAMP
At the time that the delegation was conducting its investigation, over 300 Haitians were living in a barbed wire detention facility on Carmichael Road, near Nassau. Over the course of the prior several weeks, Bahamian security forced had arrested all incoming Haitians arriving by boat and placed them in the camp. Members of the delegation visited the site on Thursday April 21, Saturday April 23, and Sunday April 24.
The camp sits on the grounds of what was once a school house and school yard, covering perhaps 2 acres, now surrounded by a hurricane fence topped with barbed wire. The old school building has been renovated, painted pink, and now houses about 100 Cuban refugees who had arrived shortly before the Haitian boats that brought the 300 detained in the camp. The Haitians' quarters, as stark contrast to the Cubans', consist of tents and trailers of the type that one often sees as temporary offices around construction sites.
At the time of the delegation's visit, Haitians slept 12 to a room approximately 10 feet square. In addition, detainees complained of short rations and police brutality. Members of the delegation observed about thirty teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 in the camp, and detainees indicated that the same number of pregnant women were among them. Numerous guards, police, ens soldiers carrying large machine guns patrol the site.
Construction work in progress at the time of the visit suggested that the government plans to use the camp as a permanent facility. Members of the delegation observed efforts to add more trailers to the site, to install permanent plumbing for bathrooms, and to build a kitchen. Work was in progress toward permanent plumbing for bathrooms and toward installing a kitchen. At the time, meals were supplied from outside the camp, primarily by volunteers, and the detainees complained
of short rations.
B. LIKELY REFUGEE STATUS OF MANY DETAINEES
Interviews conducted with detainees over the course of the delegation's multiple visits to the camp conveyed an impression of a group of people with profound fears for their personal safety--indeed for their lives--should they be returned to Haiti, and thus possessing strong claims for political asylum.
A large number related horrifying stories of shooting, stabbing and death. Many were supporters of Lavalas, the political movement which supported the Aristide presidency, and carried with them papers proving their work for the Aristide government. Many also belonged to groups such as Tet a Ansan, now targeted by military death squads in Haiti.
As one of the detainees said, in a typical account, "I worked for the Aristide government. After October 30th, when Aristide didn't come back, they [the Haitian military] came and shot at me. But I escaped. I had to hide in the bush for two months. My life was in danger, so I ran away. I came here with my brother and my wife."
C. DEPORTAION AFTER SHAM ASYLUM PROCEDURES
On Thursday, government officials indicated to members of the delegation that the processing of the Haitians at the camp would take some time, and that adequate precautions would be taken to protect legitimate asylum claims. The events of the following several days soon proved that these assertions were clearly false.
In an interview conducted at the camp on Saturday, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Idris Reid said that 94 detainees had been flown back to Port-au-Prince that very morning at 5:00 a.m. He stated that the returnees were going back to Haiti "willingly," and that according to reports he had received from Bahamian officials in Port-au-Prince, the returnees had passed through an almost empty airport, been greeted by a Haitian immigration official, and shortly departed via public taxis and trucks to go back to their homes in the North. In addition,
he informed members of the fact-finding mission that the Bahamian government was conducting the repatriation under the supervision of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), that the UNHCR was conducting interviews with the detainees, and that the interviews were the standard UNHCR asylum interviews.
In spite of Reid's repeated assurances that departures were voluntary and that "everything is being done properly--the UNHCR is seeing to that," the circumstances surrounding the deportations clearly indicate that any procedures followed were sham procedures. The Haitians in the camp had no meaningful opportunity to present asylum claims, and their return was far from "willing."
First, Reid told members of the delegation on Saturday morning that all the Haitians detained in the camp were economic migrants. At the same time, he stated that all detainees would be deported. He made these statements before all detainees had been interviewed-- according to his own account, only 135 had been "processed" by this point-- suggesting that the Bahamian government had never had any real plans to consider asylum claims of any of the Haitians in the camp.
Second, the fact-finding mission learned from a source with access to the Center that no interviews had been conducted as late as 2:00 p.m. on Friday. Therefore, if any interviews were conducted with the 94 who were flown back, they were conducted between 2:00 p.m. on Friday and 5:00 a.m. on Saturday. The short time period, the large number of Haitians involved, and the fact that neither of the UNHCR representatives spoke Creole, indicate that it is virtually impossible that meaningful interviews were
Third, the delegation later learned from Haitian Ambassador Joseph Etienne, who was allowed to board the plane briefly before its departure, that only 14 of the 94 had raised their hands in response to his question concerning how many wanted to be returned. Clearly, these people were not "willingly" returning to Haiti.
Fourth, remaining detainees reported that the "willingness" of some to submit themselves to repatriation had been extracted when Bahamian authorities offered them a "choice" between repatriation and incarceration in the notorious Fox Hill Prison, ranked as the fourth worst
jail in the world by Amnesty International. According to the remaining detainees, the 94 initially repatriated formed part of a group of 135 who had signed forms indicating their "choice" to return. The others had refuse to sign. The Haitians repeatedly stated that their lives would be in danger were they to go back to Haiti.
Despite the delegation's pleas--and those of numerous others--to halt the essentially forcible return of these people to their strife-torn homeland (in direct contravention of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees) the repatriations were only delayed a few days. One week later, the Detention Center had been emptied, with many of the detainees held in Fox Hill in the interim on the pretense that they had attempted a riot.
Ambassador Etienne has received unconfirmed reports of reprisals against the Haitians recently returned to Port-au-Prince from the Bahamas. There is no question that, at a minimum, the return process provides the Haitian military with the opportunity to identify the returnees (generally they are finger-printed upon their return) and makes them easy marks for later retributions.
D. UPDATE AS OF MAY 26, 1994
Reports from members of a more recent delegation, conducted by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, indicate that deportation continues. Moreover, government authorities have begun to arrest longtime residents and place them in the camp,
One man, interviewed by the delegation's translator, was arrested while he was in the hospital. 53 years old, he has lived in the Bahamas for 30 years. He said that the authorities arrested him because his boss had recently terminated his work permit. The man is still sick. Incapable of rising from the wooden palate on which he sleeps, he is unable to obtain the meager rations provided detainees must stand in line to receive the one sandwich that is provided daily. Because he cannot walk, and because no plumbing exists in the camp, he must relieve himself where he lies.
Another detainee interviewed, a single mother of three children who has lived in the the Bahamas for twelve years, was arrested on the street. Completely distraught at the time of the interview, the woman said that she has no way of knowing where her children are or who is taking care of them since she has been placed in the camp.
According to members of the recent delegation, hundreds of Haitians are sleeping in the bushes, afraid that immigration officials will arrest them in their homes and send them to Haiti.
The entire detention and repatriation program defies internationally recognized norms prohibiting arbitrary detention and summary repatriation. At the time of this delegation's visit, the Haitians in the camp received absolutely no meaningful opportunity to present asylum claims and were instead summarily repatriated to a country where they face almost certain persecution, torture, even death. The involvement of the UNHCR was particularly shocking, giving the process an air of legitimacy that it clearly did not merit. UNHCR officials actively assisted the Bahamian government in hasty, ill-considered, and probably illegal deportations. Detainees told members of the delegation that UNHCR and Bahamian officials alike were "encouraging" them to return home. In light of the current level of terror in Haiti, described by the High Commissioner on Refugees herself as warranting a halt on deportation, this behavior clearly violates internationally recognized human rights norms in addition to being cruel, humiliating, and unconscionable.
IV. THE TREATMENT OF LONG-TIME HAITIAN RESIDENTS IN THE BAHAMAS
Sadly, in the context of the overall treatment of Haitians in the Bahamas--and, indeed, in the world--the Bahamian government's treatment of recent refugees does not appear so shocking. The forced repatriations initiated in April 1991 form only the most recent wave in a long history of cruel deportations, carried out without meaningful asylum procedures and under humiliating, inhumane conditions. These periodic mass deportations are supplemented by a regime of continuing police brutality, designed to hold the Haitian population in fear and to remind the community that all Haitians, even those who have lived in the Bahamas for many years, may be summarily returned to Haiti at any time. The islands of the Bahamas have been a destination for Haitians fleeing oppression and political turmoil in their own country for decades. Current estimates of Haitians residing in the Bahamas range from 20,000 to 70,000. Ambassador Etienne places the number at 50,000, and estimates that 70% of that 50,000 are deemed "illegal" under Bahamian law.
Some of the Haitians now residing in the Bahamas have arrived within the last few years, in attempts to escape the recent crisis in Haiti. But many others were born in the Bahamas, and some have lived there for twenty years or more--most of them in a state of great anxiety, constantly threatened with possible imprisonment and deportation
A. MAY RAIDS
The current Bahamian government came to power promising both to make the Haitian situation a "top priority . . . institut[ing] a programme of detention and early repatriation of all illegal immigrants," but also to regularize the status of those who "have positively contributed toward the development of the Bahamas and have raised Bahamian children who are also making their contribution to our community." (Manifesto '92 of the Free National Movement.) Only the former promise has been kept.
In May of 1993, the government conducted a series of massive roundups of Haitians, primarily on the islands of Abaco, Eleuthera and New Providence.
Government security forces armed with automatic weapons and aided by police dogs raided Haitian settlements between midnight and 3 a.m. Government officials broke down doors, roused people from sleep, and (on the outlying islands) herded them onto boats for the trip to Nassau for "processing." Security forces detained children as well as adults, separated families, and destroyed and confiscated personal property. Officials jailed hundreds from each of the major raid sites.
According to accounts given to a previous human rights delegation, "the defense and immigration forces were very brutal, and many people were beaten. Most lost all their property . . . One woman testified that soldiers came into her house and stole $400 .... According to the women, the Bahamian security forces severely beat many people during the raid." ("For Haitian Refugees . . . It's Not Better in the Bahamas.") Other eye- witnesses reported to this delegation that during the raids, the security forces did not even allow Haitians to retrieve their documents showing their legal residence. "Legals" and "illegals" alike were rounded up indiscriminately.
Pastor Robin Weatherford, who was active in providing relief to the Haitian community on Abaco during the May raids, described the Bahamian security forces' conduct as cruel and inhumane: "The raids started at 10:00. I stayed up till 3:00 a.m. helping people. They took people from their homes in the middle of the night and brought them into the immigration office. There was no place to go the the bathroom, so people had to urinate in cups.... Listening to the screams of the kids was unbearable." On the following day, when security forces transported the Haitians to Nassau by boat, the boat was made of steel, and "scalding hot" after sitting in the sun. According to Weatherford, security forces crammed hundreds into the boat, in spite of the heat, and at least one man fell overboard and drowned. "The Bahamian government treats them like they're not human beings," he said.
Another local clergyman who helped the Haitians during the May raids said that more than 100 hid in the bush behind his house during the period: "I was housing and feeding well over 100. This continued for a few weeks." According to him, Bahamian authorities herded people from their homes without giving them time to collect their belongings or work permits. He and Pastor Weatherford assisted people by retrieving work permits, which helped some to remain in the country.
After the release of some and the deportation of others, officials sent approximately 400 of the Haitians rounded up in the May raids to Fox Hill Prison. Eventually, faced with the choice of remaining in subhuman conditions for an indefinite period or buying their back to Haiti, many of these "consented" to repatriation after funds for travel were raised within the Haitian community.
Members of the delegation collected the following accounts from Haitians who managed to remain in the Bahamas after the raids or who have been able to return:
A young man from Nassau who had been living in the Bahamas since 1984 related, "During the May raid, I was put in detention. They put 13 of us in one room. There was no room to sit down. It was like a cage. I never slept. We lay on the wall. I was there for seven days. In court they asked us, 'Three months of jail or $300, what would you like?' We said we wanted to go back to Haiti. They sent us to Fox Hill." The man found his way out of Fox Hill and back to Haiti after scraping together funds from
friends to buy a plane ticket. He then later returned to the Bahamas.
A man on Eleuthera told members of the delegation that his wife and six children were separated from him and deported to Haiti during the raids. The man had a work permit. The wife, who had lived in the Bahamas for 12 years, did not. All six children were born in the Bahamas and had known no other home.
A middle-aged woman from the Pigeon Peas settlement on Abaco who has been living in the Bahamas for 23 years hid in the bush to escape the immigration officials during the raids: "When the police came, everyone went in the bush. Snakes bit us. My daughter died when a snake bit her. She was hiding in the bush."
A teenager and young mother who has resided in Nassau since 1980 described immigration forces' abuse of her father: "Since my daddy is a carpenter, they beat my daddy. I have two children. In August 1993, I left my children inside, and I ran to hide in the bush. Immigration came to the door. I hid for two hours in the bush. They knock people up so hard."
B. A REGIME OF VIOLENCE AND INTIMIDATION
1. Continuing Raids, Beatings, Jailings, and Deportations
Shortly after the May raids, then-Minister of Public Safety and Immigration Arlington Butler insisted that "the night-time raids were necessary in order to be effective, and that they would continue." He justified the destruction and loss of Haitian property as "necessary to prevent people from escaping."
Although raids on the scale of those of May 1993 have not recurred, government forces conducted smaller raids on Eleuthera in December 1993. Moreover, Haitians from communities throughout the islands report continuing, irregular, late-night "visits" by government authorities. In fact, three private "charter companies" operate on the strength of regular arrests of Haitians presented with the "choice" of spending time in Fox Hill or buying tickets back to Haiti.
Father Remy, a Catholic priest from Freeport, noted a correspondence between raids and elections: "The government rounds up Haitians at election time to pacify Bahamian voters."
Haitians apprehended on the smaller, outer islands may be held in small, local jails for several days while awaiting transport to Nassau, often under extraordinarily cramped conditions and without food. The food and other support that does exist is provided by local volunteers.
Haitian residents related the following accounts of continuing raids. beatings, jailings, and deportations to members of the delegation:
A farm worker from Eleuthera who makes $20 a day described the recurring raids: "Immigration comes at night, knocks on the door. He catches you just like dogs. If you have a permit, maybe he'll slap you and let you go. In December, immigration came looking for me. He hit me in the face, but he let me go when I showed him my permit."
Another farm worker from Eleuthera, here since 1981, related a similar incident: "In December, when immigration came, he hit me on the head one time. He talked to me bad. Then he knocked me up. After that, he left when I showed him my work permit."
A young man from Nassau who fled Haiti after the coup told of repeated encounters with immigration officials. "I was in the Lavalas movement in Haiti. After the coup, everything was very hard for me.Nobody could talk or participate in the organization. They come to arrest me many times, but they couldn't find me. In August 1993, when I came to the Bahamas, immigration came to my house. I hid in the wall. Then they left. Then I moved, went to another place. Immigration came again., at 5a.m. They came in the back. A woman came. I ran away. I spent seven days sleeping in the bush."
A construction worker from the Lewis Yard settlement in Freeport, here for thirteen years, told of repeated raids and police brutality. "Immigration officials come in the middle of the night, take you, put you in jail, and deport you. One day they stopped me when I was walking down the street. I showed them my paper, but they still locked me up. My boss finally signed for me. But I was there for 3-4 months. Sometimes the boss doesn't come. If not, they send you back to Haiti. When they come and arrest you, they don't even give you a chance to put your clothes on. They run after you and beat you."
2. Prolonged Arbitrary Detention Immigration forces repeatedly threaten to send Haitians to the notorious Fox Hill prison if they refuse to buy plane tickets home to Haiti. Hundreds of Haitians were detained there during the May raids, housed side by side convicted criminals. According to Ambassador Etienne, about 38 of those remain in the jail.
The Bahamian government officials denied the group access to Fox Hill; in fact, no human rights group has been permitted into Fox Hill since October 1992, and even that visit was very limited in its scope--the group was not allowed to talk to the inmates and detainees, for example.
Amnesty International ranks Fox Hill as the fourth worst prison facility in the world. Pastor Weatherford, who has made several trips to the jail, called it a "nightmare." Fred Smith, a lawyer from Freeport who has visited the facility numerous times described it as a "barbaric cesspool."
Designed in 1950s for 350 people, the prison now houses over 3,500. According to Smith, authorities cram 9 Haitians into cells 6 feet square and provide only a bucket for defecation. Other conditions are equally humiliating: "They don't let you out for exercise. Water is provided in a plastic can placed on the side of the door. It's cruel and barbaric."
A number of Haitians interviewed had seen the inside of Fox Hill and described their experiences there in detail:
A man from Nassau who fled to the Bahamas in 1984, told of his treatment in Fox Hill in 1987 during an earlier series of raids: "They put us in jail with the criminals. We had to make feces in a bucket. The s
ituation was very difficult. When they gave us food, they put it on the floor. In that moment if you didn't get the food on the floor, they beat you. We wanted to go back home. One morning, they called immigration. They said, Do you like to be beaten?' The stronger of us said, 'We will take it.' Immigration took two and grabbed one in the neck, one in the pants and started beating them. Finally, I was sent back to Haiti. But I came back after the coup."
Another man from Nassau, living in the Bahamas since 1987, was arrested while walking down the street. "On February 1, 1993 on my way to work, immigration took me. I went to court. They charged me $1,000. I preferred to go back to Haiti. They told me, 'No, you have to stay in jail.'They put me in Fox Hill. One day, the guard told me to walk fast. Because I didn't walk fast, he hit me. Another time, I paid three cigarettes to get water. An officer came up to the gate, kicked the gallon of water. Then we had no more water." He related that the guards often beat the Haitians: "Once an officer said to me, 'You're not going anywhere before I mistreat you.' He beat another Haitian until he fainted. They thought he was dead. They put him in another room. When they finished beating him up, they beat me. They released me in June. I don't have any papers. I'm not working."
A farm worker from Eleuthera described found himself thrown in Fox Hill after living in the Bahamas for four years: "Immigration caught me. I applied for a work permit, but I didn't get it yet. They put me in jail in Fox Hill for 15 days. There were seventy people in one room. We slept on ply wood." In jail, he bought a plane ticket to Haiti but came back when his boss helped him to get his work permit."
3. Extortion, destruction of homes, and other forms of harassment
Numerous Haitians told members of the delegation that they are frequently the targets of extortion, at times even by police officials. Haitians on all the islands visited said that immigration officials often conduct roundups of Friday afternoon, payday. According to these reports, security forces arrest Haitians, threaten to jail or deport them, and then collect money in exchange for their release.
Pastor Weatherford related one such incident that he said was typical: "One guy was walking form his house one morning to get sweet potatoes. They beat him up and threw him in the truck, asked for money, and let him go." Weatherford stated that this kind of harassment is regular: "They often pick up people on Friday night and beat them. Then they get paid. It happens every week."
In addition to extortion, Haitians also suffer outright destruction of homes and property. A Catholic priest from Abaco described the efforts of a neo-vigilante group to destroy Haitian residences: "There are people from town planning who are a neo-vigilante group. They put x's on houses to be demolished. Once, the leader asked me to translate so that the
people in the me would not be upset! Then they went in and levelled them. This happened just before Christmas. They said they were bulldozing 'vacant' houses." Members of the group viewed a number of the demolished homes in the Pigeon Peas settlement.
When Haitians are attacked or burglarized by private citizens, they cannot expect protection from the police. A large number of the Haitians interviewed reported that he Bahamian police routinely ignore calls for assistance from the Haitian community. The account of a middle-aged man from Nassau was typical, "Someone broke into my house. When I called the police, they never came."
In short, arbitrary, indiscriminate physical abuse and harassment continue at a level sufficient to maintain a regime of intimidation that often forces Haitians to flee the country at the risk of their lives.
The system of control of Haitians in the Bahamas depends on a distinction between "legals" and "illegals." The legal status of Haitians (and other "aliens") in the Bahamas is determined by the laws pertaining to citizenship and by an oppressive and arbitrarily administered work permit system.
Article 7 of the the Bahamian Constitution grants citizenship to persons born in the Bahamas of non-Bahamian parents only upon application, after their eighteenth birthday. The right to citizenship is expressed as an entitlement, but only if application is made within one year after the person reaches 18. At least three major problems exist with this system.
First, many teenagers born in the Bahamas of Haitian parents are unaware of the application requirement--or of its short window of opportunity. The delegation interviewed about a dozen such teenagers in person, and discussion with other Haitians indicated that among eligible young adults, knowledge of citizenship rights is not common.
Second, and more problematic, numerous persons entitled to citizenship under this provision of the Constitution reported to us that neither they nor anyone they knew had been granted citizenship in spite of timely applications. One young woman, nineteen years old, was typical. A pre-school teacher in Freeport, she told us that neither she nor her
20 brother had received the citizenship entitled to them both. Both were born in the Bahamas. She had filed her application three months before the interview. Her brother, a tire repair-man, had filed one two years before the interview. Such applications appear to be bogged down in bureaucratic attempts to "verify the facts" associated with the applications. None of the eligible young people interviewed had received citizenship, nor did anyone interviewed know of any eligible young people who had received citizenship.
A third, perhaps even more serious problem arising from the citizenship policy, as applied, is pervasive social discrimination against Haitians. The scheme in effect creates a two-tier, segregated society in which Haitians face unequal treatment in the workplace, at school, and even on the streets.
Discrimination, both subtle and overt, is widespread. Certain menial jobs, such as garbage collection, farm work, and gardening are reserved for Haitians. Two Bahamian clerks at a well-known Freeport hotel laughed when members of the delegation inquired whether or not Haitians worked at the hotel counter with them. "They can't work here!" they exclaimed. "They work in the laundry."
Another young woman from Freeport, a bank clerk, related an example which further reveals the rigidity of the Bahamian social hierarchy which places Haitians at the absolute bottom: "I work in a bank. I am a proud Haitian Bahamian. I was talking in Creole, and everyone was surprised. They said, 'What are you doing here, working in a bank? You're a Haitian!' I said, 'Haitians are not just boat people!"'
The young pre-school teacher, in a typical account, described discrimination as rampant in the schools: "They give Haitian kids a lot of trouble. They treat Haitian kids differently. Why? They think you come to take over their country. I never go to Bahamians' houses. They never invited me. They don't like us. They say 'dumb' Haitians." The teacher said that the Haitian children struggle to conceal all evidence of their Haitian background.
As illegal aliens, most Haitians retain no formal legal rights which would entitle them to equality before the law. Of course, undocumented Haitian aliens who suffer unequal treatment under United States law fare little better than those in the Bahamas. However, the Bahamian policy of denying citizenship even to Haitians born in the country surpasses the United States in entrenching intense social division and hatred. Further,
it establishes what is virtually a caste system, permitting the government to deny equal rights to all those of Haitian descent, generations after their ancestors have arrived in the country. Out of this system has emerged a rapidly growing body of stateless people who live in fear of repatriation to a "home" they have never known, a country torn apart by an even more vicious brand of political oppression than that which they face in the Bahamas.
C. WORK PERMITS
The work permit system lies at the root of the oppressive control of Haitians in the Bahamas. It operates, in effect, as a system of indentured servitude--backed up by the threat of imprisonment and, ultimately,repatriation .
The system requires, first, that a Haitian ingratiate himself (or herself) to a potential Bahamian employer who will apply, on the Haitian's behalf, to the Bahamian authorities for the required permit. The permit bears the employer's name, and the Haitian employee is left with no flexibility to change jobs or to seek other employment if he or she should fall out of the good graces of the employer. Predictably, this system encourages considerable abuse by employers.
The government, in fact, issues the work permit document to the employer. Some employers pass the document on to the worker, or furnish the worker with a copy, but many do neither. An employer's good will is the only thing which stands between a Haitian without papers and jail or deportation.
With only rare exceptions, the worker bears the cost of the permit, often over time--on credit to the employer. In May of 1993, the government doubled the price of permits (increased as much as ten-fold in some cases) to what are virtually prohibitive levels. Permits for farm workers, for example, have risen from $25 to $250; for domestics, from $250 to $500; for tailors, from $1,000 to $2,000. These sums often amount to more than a month's wages.
The increased cost of permits has been paired with a requirement that workers pay retroactive national insurance premiums, amounts that can run into hundreds of dollars, adding to the general climate of oppression. 22 Although the government argues that these increases are simply revenue-raising measures, they have a disproportionate impact on the Haitian community, which makes up the bulk of non-Bahamian workers i the islands. The increases have an exclusionary effect, adding to the number of Haitians who work illegally and increasing their vulnerability to and dependence on the whims of their employers.
In addition, numerous residents have reported extreme delays in processing the work permit applications, often lasting as long as 6 to 8 months. Because the permits remain valid for only one year, even workers who are attempting to comply with the system lack current documents for long periods and are subject to detention--at least until the matter can be "straightened out." In the May 1993 raids, numerous people caught in this limbo state were reportedly deported without concern for the cause of their lack of current documents.
The delegation collected the following accounts of the work permit system:
The instability that the system creates in the lives of the workers is captured in the testimony of a farm worker from Nassau who first fled to the Bahamas in 1985: "In February 1986, I was arrested. They sent me back home [to Haiti] in March. I stayed there 3 years. I came back in 1989. I tried everything to get a permit. Finally I got two. In 1992, my boss died, and in January 1993, they arrested me again. It was a group. They came to my house at 4 a.m. They pushed me. They charged me $1000 for the permit. The consul got me out of jail. I tried to get another permit, but they didn't approve me because I changed bosses."
Another farm worker reported a similar story. Immigration authorities arrested him after his application for a permit had been accepted-- he hadn't yet received the papers. "They put me in jail in Fox Hill for 15 days. There were 70 people one room. We slept on ply wood. So for $200 I took a plane to Haiti. After two months, I took a plane back. My boss gave me permit."
A sanitation worker who has been living in the Bahamas since 1985 related: "I was working for a Bahamian, cleaning yards. He applied for a work permit [for me]. But I never received papers. In 1989, immigration arrested me. They broke down my door, and hit me on the face. I spent 12 days in jail. When my boss went to immigration, they said I can't stay in the country. After that, my wife hired a lawyer for me and I got out. The same day, the police took me, and they beat me up. I can't go back to Haiti
23 because of my politics. I was a soldier in Haiti."
A man on Grand Bahama stated: "I have been in the Bahamas for 19 years. I am still not a citizen. My work permit costs $500 a year, and they want $700 in insurance for the last two or three years. I don't know how I will pay it. I don't know what I will do."
A woman on Grand Bahama noted: "I am Bahamian. My husband is Haitian. He works odds jobs, cuts grass, gardens. Immigration comes every week. They arrest him sometimes, but then they release him after a while because I am Bahamian."
A young man from Nassau, in a typical account, described his experience of employers' abuse of the system: "I worked for a man for four days and then he didn't pay me. He told me to go away or he would call the police because I am illegal."
The government turns a blind eye to Haitians working without permits, then uses their lack of permits as the rationale for harassment and expulsion when it is politically expedient. Many employers among the large agricultural operations on the outer islands take little note of the work permit system. With or without a permit, farm workers on the outlying islands are entirely in the power of the farm owners.
These abuses occur in spite of the fact, acknowledged by one white Bahamian farmer interviewed, that without the Haitian laborers, the farms (and much else in the Bahamian economy) would close down. Haitians perform the bulk of the hard labor and "dirty work" in the Bahamas.
The work permit benefits the Bahamas by creating a subject people who will work the least desirable jobs at substandard pay. The differential in wages between Haitians and Bahamians is great enough that even many low-income Bahamians can afford to hire a Haitian servant. The government draws revenue from the permits, from the consumption taxes paid by all Haitians, and from the premiums for insurance upon which Haitians will draw only if they remain in the Bahamas and are awarded citizenship.
Since 1992, the Bahamas boasts of deporting more than 5000 Haitians. Of these, many have departed "voluntarily" when faced with the coercive alternative of imprisonment in Fox Hill Prison.
As recently as April 1994, the Bahamas repatriated over 300 Haitians from the Carmichael Road Detention Center, as described above. All of these people have been sent back to Haiti--and to very uncertain, likely violent, futures--without any meaningful legal process for assessing their claims to refugee status. Given our interviews with these people shortly before their repatriation, the members of the delegation feel that it is almost certain that those repatriated included many with legitimate asylum claims.
Other Haitians, longtime residents in the Bahamas, and their children, are held in a near stateless status, subject to social discrimination, arbitrary violence, and extreme economic exploitation. They remain at all times vulnerable to imprisonment and repatriation to Haiti. For many, these conditions are unbearable, compelling continued flight with all of its attendant perils.
Those who work closely with the Haitians say that the government policies represent clear efforts to force Haitians out of the country, when it is convenient, and to provide a docile work force ready to perform menial tasks rejected by Bahamian citizens. In implementing these policies, the government treats Haitians as sub-human.
According to Pastor
Weatherford, "The whole idea [of the raids] was to scare them off to Florida. The Bahamas is flushing these people out, and treats them like they're not human beings."
The priest from Abaco made a similar statement: "Since then [the May raids], three quarters of the population [of Abaco] has left. We've helped people find routes back to Haiti. Boats have gone out with hundreds. The largest exodus wasn't the roundups. It came after. People are in fear. At the whim of the government, they can be moved, even if they have work permits."
The priest also related an incident which captures the Bahamian authorities' treatment of Haitians as less than human. Several children had died when a boat of fleeing immigrants sank off Treasure Key. "When we heard about it, we wanted to make caskets for the bodies. We had to
25 PAY to cart the bodies from treasure key. It was $600. It took days to get bodies, which were decomposed, frozen, thrown in the back of a truck... The children's bodies had been brutally crammed into the truck. when we got them, we couldn't even fit them in the caskets It was mindboggling."
Despite these horrifying events, the exodus continues-- for many the risk of death at sea is preferable to the violence and exploitation they face in the Bahamas.
On February 20, 1994, for example, a boat carrying forty Haitian refugees, 29 adults and 11 children, fleeing the Bahamas for Florida, capsized in shark-infested waters off Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas. Only eight survived. One woman from "The Mud" community on Abaco lost all four of her children, including a year-old infant, on that boat.
On February 8, 1994, four Haitians, two adults and two children, who had fled the Bahamas, drowned when their group was forced from a smuggler's boat in shallow waters just short of the beach in Florida.
Refugee relief workers in Florida report that two to three boats per week from the Bahamas are encountered along the Florida coast by various authorities. And these are only the boats that are "caught." By the hundreds, Haitians are risking their lives to flee the Bahamas.
Although the problem of the Haitian refugees is complex and has its source outside the Bahamas, the Bahamas is still obligated to respect the human rights of the people who arrive on its shores, or, indeed, who have lived and worked there for decades. Presently it has failed to do so.
Conditions for Haitians in the Bahamas could be substantially improved by taking the following steps:
1. The government should develop a consistent, meaningful process for assessing asylum claims.
2. The work permit system must be reformed. Permits should be available for reasonable prices, should be issued to workers, not employers, and should provide sufficient flexibility so the worker, not the employer, has control of his or her economic life. The issuance of permits should be greatly expedited, and workers should be able to renew them easily.
3. At a minimum, information about the process of obtaining citizenship for 18-year-olds born in the Bahamas of non-Bahamian parents should be broadly disseminated--and the delays in processing applications should be eliminated. A more far-reaching reform would include granting citizenship to all children born in the Bahamas.
4. The government should implement a standardized procedure for providing some form of stable, regularized status to long-term residents of Haitian origins who are making significant contributions to the economy and well-being of the nation.
1. For useful background on the Haiti situation and a description of conditions under the current de facto military government, see "The AILA Human Rights Delegation Report on Haiti, N Washington, D.C., March 1993, by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
2. Meals were being provided by the Red Cross, and by the Haitian Bahamian Cultural Association. Detainees reported to the delegation that they typically received only one meal a day, and that often the amount of food was not sufficient to feed everyone in the camp.
3. The delegation discovered that Bahamian officials routinely offer this same "choice" to Haitians arrested as "illegal" within the Bahamas. See below.