A month after Hurricane Dorian blew through the Bahamas, the Bahamian government is reportedly using the category 5 storm to target and push out Haitian immigrants, many of whom suffered disproportionately from the hurricane’s impact.
According to a new BuzzFeed report, the island nation is blocking thousands of Haitians who had to relocate due to the storm from returning to their communities. Already a vulnerable population in the Bahamas, Haitians currently living in shelters are being threatened with deportation; hurdles have also been put in place that make it more difficult for them to keep the jobs they have.
“This storm is looking like the opportunity that the government wanted or needed to be able to finally rid themselves of Haitians amongst us and the shanty towns,” Louby Georges, a director with Human Rights Bahamas and spokesperson for the United Haitian Community Front, told BuzzFeed.
The official death toll of Hurricane Dorian is 60 people, though hundreds are still listed as missing. Many of those killed during the storm were found in Haitian shanty towns on Great Abaco Island. Recovery workers are still pulling bodies from the debris, BuzzFeed writes.
Despite the devastation the Haitian community suffered post-hurricane (or, some might argue, because of it), Prime Minister Hubert Minnis has doubled down on hardline policies against “illegal immigrants” in the wake of Dorian. This past Wednesday, Minnis informed the country’s legislature that he told his attorney general to reclaim land where thousands of Haitians had lived.
“I serve notice to all those who are illegal that they can leave voluntarily or they will be forced to leave,” Minnis told government officials this week. Previously, a court injunction prevented the government from demolishing the Haitian shanty towns, which were constructed without running water or electricity.
Displaced by the massive 2010 earthquake, Haitians are the Bahamas’ largest minority group; a 2018 report from the U.S. State Department estimates between 40,000 and 60,000 Haitians live on the islands. Because of the high volume of Haitian immigrants—many of whom work jobs as day laborers, or take low-wage jobs in the country’s resorts and wealthier neighborhoods—tensions between Bahamian natives and the Haitian community have risen.
Although the Bahamas relies on Haitians for cheap labor, the government has made it extremely difficult for the undocumented residents to assimilate. They cannot own land without a passport, which is tough to apply for, and work permits are expensive to obtain. Their children aren’t “legal” since the Bahamas does not give birthright citizenship to the offspring of undocumented residents, rendering many stateless and constantly living in fear of deportation.
An estimated 2,000 Haitians were displaced by last month’s storm. Of the more than 1,500 people currently living in shelters, three quarters are Haitian. As the Washington Post reported in September, Haitians and their advocates pressed for more protections immediately following Hurricane Dorian, concerned that more abuse and discrimination would befall them once news cameras and aid agencies left the islands. The U.S. State Department has previously observed “‘widespread’ claims of discrimination, including reports of forced labor, allegations of government extortion and warrantless arrests” of Haitians, according to the Post.