by Jones Bahamas
The 2018 human rights report issued on Wednesday renewed concerns of stateless individuals in the country, particularly in the case of a teen born in The Bahamas to a Bahamian mother of Haitian descent.
According to the report, the government did not effectively implement laws and policies to provide certain “habitual residents” the opportunity to gain nationality in a timely manner and on a nondiscriminatory basis.
Under the constitution, Bahamian-born persons of foreign heritage must apply for citizenship during a 12-month window following their 18th birthday. However sometimes these individuals wait many years for a government response, mainly because of backlogging within the Ministry of Immigration.
The report further indicated that the narrow window for application,difficult document requirements, and long waiting times leave multiple generations, who are predominantly Haitians, without a confirmed nationality.
Just last month, however, Immigration Minister Brent Symonette indicated that the department successfully minimized its backlog in processing permits and other documentation.
He added that the department is now down to six weeks response on work permits.
In March of last year, Minister Symonette also implemented a new policy allowing individuals who missed the 12- month window to gain legal permanent resident status with the right to work.
The report found that no reliable estimates of the number of persons without a confirmed nationality exists; however, “one NGO estimated there were 30,000 to 40,000”.
It further indicated that the government asserted a number of “stateless” individuals had a legitimate claim to Haitian citizenship, but refused to pursue it due to fear of deportation or loss of future claim to Bahamian citizenship.
Such persons, it said, often faced waiting for periods of several years for the government to decide on their nationality applications and, as a result, lacked proper documentation to secure employment, housing, and other public services.
The report said, “individuals born in the country to non-Bahamian parents were eligible to apply for “Belonger” status that entitled them to work and have access to public high school- level education and a fee-for-service health-care insurance program”.
It added, “Belonger permits were readily available. Authorities allowed individuals born in the country to non-Bahamian parents to pay the tuition rate for Bahamian students when enrolled in College and while waiting for their request for citizenship to be processed”.
The lack of a passport, it said, also prohibits students from accessing higher education outside the country.
It said, “In 2017 the government repealed its policy of barring children without legal status from government schools. Community activists alleged some schools continued to discriminate, claiming to be full so as not to admit children of Haitian descent.”
Back in August last year, a local daily reported the case of Taranique Thurston, a Bahamian child born to a Bahamian- mother of Haitian descent, that was unable to obtain a passport to travel out of the country for medical treatment.
Because her mother was not a “naturalized Bahamian citizen” at the time of her birth, and her mother was not married at the time to her Bahamian father, Ms. Thurston was not granted Bahamian citizenship at birth.
The government subsequently issued the child a certificate of identity that permitted her travel, listing her nationality as Haitian, despite being two generations removed from birth in Haiti.
This case eventually attracted US press attention as well as the Office of The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
With that media coverage, widespread discrimination against individuals of Haitian decent in the country was brought to the forefront.
The report also indicted that migrants accused police and immigration officers of excessive force and warrantless searches, as well as frequent solicitations of bribes by immigration officials widespread bias against migrants, particularly those of Haitian descent, again was also reported.