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Bahamas: Forcible return of asylum seekers

, رقم الوثيقة: AMR 14/010/2000

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.

PUBLIC AI Index: AMR 14/10/00
EXTRA 45/00 Forcible return of asylum seekers 3 May 2000
BAHAMAS
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.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION
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
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regarding refugees. The Bahamas has returned an estimated 1,600 people to Haiti
so far this year.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send telegrams/faxes in English or your own language
calling on the government of the Bahamas:
- to respect its international obligations as a state party to the 1951 UN
Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 UN Protocol, in
particular the principle of non-refoulement contained in article 33 of the
Convention;
- to immediately halt the forcible return of Haitians wishing to seek aylum
in the Bahamas and to ensure that no asylum seeker is returned to Haiti until
their individual asylum claims have been fully examined;
- to establish a full and fair procedure for asylum seekers to claim refugee
protection, including an effective appeals process;
- to comply with international standards on refugees, such as the UNHCR’s
February 1999 Guidelines relating to the Detention of Asylum Seekers, which
unequivocally prohibit the detention of children under the age of 18;
- to immediately cease holding asylum seekers alongside convicted criminals,
and to ensure that asylum seekers are treated humanely throughout the
determination process;
- to comply with conclusion No. 44 adopted by the states participating in the
UNHCR’s Executive Committee in 1986, which states that "detention [of asylum
seekers] should normally be avoided".
APPEALS TO:
Prime Minister
The Honourable Hubert Ingraham
Telegrams:Prime Minister, Nassau, Bahamas
Fax: + 1 242 327 5807
Salutation:Dear Prime Minister
Minister for Foreign Affairs
The Honourable Janet Bostwick
Telegrams:Foreign Minister, Nassau, Bahamas
Fax: + 1 242 328 8212
E-mail: mfabahamas@batelnet.bs
Salutation:Dear Minister
Acting Director of Immigration
Vernon Burrows
Fax: + 1 242 326 0977
Salutation:Dear Director
COPIES TO:
Newspapers
The Tribune
Fax: 1 242 328 2398
Nassau Guardian
Fax: + 1 242 328 8943/ 325 3379
Miami Herald
Fax + 1 305 376 5287
and to diplomatic representatives of the Bahamas accredited to your country.
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PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the International Secretariat,
or your section office, if sending appeals after 31 May 2000.

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