PUBLIC AI Index: AMR 14/10/00
EXTRA 45/00 Forcible return of asylum seekers 3 May 2000
Haitian asylum seekers are being forcibly returned from the Bahamas, without
any examination of their claims for asylum. Amnesty International has
longstanding concerns about human rights violations in Haiti, and fears their
lives may be in danger if they are returned.
Some 345 Haitians heading for the Bahamas by boat were picked up by immigration
officials after a shipwreck in late April. The Department of Immigration
apparently started forcibly returning them today, and the rest are due to be
returned in the next few days.
While 123 of the Haitians were held by the Royal Bahamas Defence Force in Matthew
Town, at least 222 were detained in Fox Hill prison, alongside convicted
criminals, in inhumane, unsanitary and overcrowded conditions which may amount
to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Fox Hill has housed people deemed
to be illegal immigrants since Carmichael Detention Centre was damaged by
Hurricane Floyd in September 1999.
Among the Haitians are reported to be one pregnant woman and two babies. The
UNHCR Guidelines relating to the Detention of Asylum Seekers prohibit the
detention of children.
None of the Haitians were apparently informed of their right to apply for asylum,
and they have been denied the right to competent interpreters and legal counsel,
including the right to contact the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner
for Refugees (UNHCR). The Bahamas is obliged to grant asylum seekers effective
access to a full and fair procedure to determine whether they would be at risk
of human rights violations if returned to their country of origin, as a state
party to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the
1967 UN Protocol.
The Department of Immigration has reportedly stated that applications for asylum
do not fall within its remit, even though immigration authorities are understood
to be handling the transfer, detention and proposed return of the Haitians.
Some of the Haitians are believed to be affiliated to an opposition political
party, and several have described political persecution and intimidation to
independent journalists and other witnesses. Haiti is preparing to hold
long-overdue elections, and political intimidation and violence have reportedly
increased in recent weeks.
Under the principle of non-refoulement, set out in Article 33 of the Refugee
Convention, the Bahamas is obliged to ensure that no person is returned,
directly, or indirectly, to a country where "his life or freedom would be
threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a
particular social group or political opinion." Implicit in this principle is
the necessity to establish a satisfactory asylum procedure, to identify those
who would be at risk.
Amnesty International and other international organisations have repeatedly
expressed concern about the Bahamas’ failure to uphold international standards