By LÉANDRA ROLLE
Journalist of the Tribune
LABOR and Immigration Minister Keith Bell said the government would begin repatriation of some 1,000 Haitian migrants by tomorrow after the process was halted yesterday due to technical issues at Port airport. -of-Peace in Haiti.
Mr. Bell spoke to reporters after another Haitian sloop, with 137 migrants on board, was intercepted off Ragged Island on Wednesday morning.
Royal Bahamas Defense Force officials said the group, along with 292 Haitians found in the Ragged Island chain last week, were being transported to Inagua for further processing.
The latest group now joins more than 400 Haitians who are already hosted on the island after being apprehended in Bahamian waters.
According to Mr. Bell yesterday, more than 1,000 Haitians have been taken into custody by local authorities in recent days.
He said most of those arrested are men.
“As you will recall, we had over 501 (migrants) who (were) initially there in Inagua,” he told reporters yesterday. “We had 415 on (Flamingo) Cay. This figure is a little fluid because we know that there were less than expected on the cayenne. I think the number was 377 if I’m not mistaken, then added to 137. ”
He said the government had hoped some of those people would return home yesterday, but said repatriation exercises had to be postponed due to “serious” technical issues at Haiti’s airport.
“As it stands, I spoke with the Honorable Fred Mitchell and from all indications, the Haitian government has indicated that it has serious technical problems with the Port-de-Paix airport. Therefore, we could not start the repatriation this morning. Mr. Bell added.
“However, despite this, we expect that we will be able to repatriate all those on trial by Saturday. We will start the repatriation exercise no later than tomorrow (Friday) if we have any news from the Haitian government (because) I think they will use an alternative airport, so if that is fixed today we will do it today. ‘hui.
“Bahamasair has put two planes at our disposal so we are ready; the Immigration Department, Bahamasair and all law enforcement agencies are ready to begin repairs immediately, but again, it all depends on the ability of the Haitian government to allow us to land at which airport. “
The large detention of Haitian nationals in Inagua has raised concerns among locals about the potential spread of COVID-19 and other communicable diseases like cholera.
The Tribune has learned that health officials are closely monitoring the situation amid a reported cholera outbreak in Haiti.
Yesterday, Mr. Bell confirmed that officials were carrying out the necessary health checks. However, he said there was still no information to suggest any diseases had been imported into the country.
“The main concern has always remained to make sure that there is no disease, not only COVID-19, but we have always had a problem to ensure that tuberculosis and other diseases are not introduced. in the country by these groups of migrants, so it’s not something new, ”he said yesterday.
“In terms of testing, this is something that is always being done. This is standard procedure. I congratulate the Minister of Health and his health team. They flew in a very large, good sized health team and they continued testing. The first group has been tested. The second group has been tested and the latter group, as you know, is on its way to Inagua and will also be tested. So, as I have already indicated, there is no indication that there is a COVID among this group. “
In addition to health concerns, the residents of Inagua are also concerned about the housing and security situation there.
Inagua administrator Marlon Leary told The Tribune on Wednesday that welcoming large numbers of migrants was a challenge. He also revealed that some Haitians in Inagua were disorganized during their detention. It comes as authorities expect more migrants to arrive in the Bahamas in the coming days.
However, Mr Bell told reporters that overcrowding on the island should not be a problem once the repatriation exercises begin.
He said, “We have the facility that (is) the Church of the Universal Declaration. This is where the initial group is hosted. The second group is housed, those from the police station, they are housed in an auditorium that has been made available to us, a brand new facility, and they are housed there.
“The new group that is at sea, we anticipate that by the time we start the repatriation exercises, one of these rooms will become available for us, so we anticipate that there will be overflow and there will be no will have no problem in terms of overcrowding, feeding and shelter, etc., and that’s what will happen.
The country is seeing an influx of migrants from Haiti due to increased social and political unrest after last month’s devastating earthquake and the assassination of former Haitian President Jovenel Moise in July.