A press conference was held at the Department of Immigration on Hawkins Hill, Nassau on Sunday, 7th December 2014 to address reported claims of abuse by suspects at the hands of Immigration Officers in connection with the enforcement of immigration laws through routine interdiction exercises. Below is the press conference text delivered by the Minister of Immigration, Hon. Fred Mitchell.
STATEMENT BY FRED MITCHELL MP
MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND IMMIGRATION
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
UPDATE ON IMMIGRATION EXERCISES
7th December 2014
I wish to thank the Bahamian public for their continued support of the immigration checks, regulations and exercises that are ongoing.
While I understand that there has been increased scrutiny of immigration operations over the past thirty days since the new administrative measures were announced, I want to remind the public that what the Immigration Department has been doing since 1st November is what it has been doing since the day I became minister. There is nothing new or special. Indeed up to 1st November, we had repatriated some 3000 people to their home countries.
Secondly, I continue to advise those who characterize these operations as raids that this characterization is incorrect. Raids are for animals, not human beings. Notwithstanding that we continue to see headlines about raids. I would wish editors and reporters to take note that this is not correct. Immigration does checks throughout the country. This may be in the public roads, at business houses and construction sites or in residences, depending on where the evidence leads. These are evidence based checks.
The standard for these checks is that of a reasonable suspicion. It is the constitutional standard. Each officer is briefed about the responsibility to adhere to that standard.
If there a reasonable suspicion that someone has committed an offence, is about to commit an offence or is committing an offence, the immigration officer is legally empowered to take action under the constitution.
To the best of my knowledge that standard has not been violated, and notwithstanding the most recent reports in the press, I am advised that no one has been assaulted or battered by any officer of the Department in connection with the routine checks which are presently under review and scrutiny in the public domain and the subject of much commentary.
When these matters were first discussed publicly by me in the Budget Debate of 2012, I made it clear that the question of the fundamental rights of each individual was upper most in my mind; that the constitution does permit actions which might not normally occur where it is reasonably necessary in a democratic society. While I do not think that there is any erosion of fundamental rights that too is upper most in the minds of policy makers: that everything we do must be reasonably necessary in a democratic society.
Last week there were several reports in the press listing complaints emanating from and about the routine Immigration checks. Each and every public allegation is reviewed by the Department of Immigration. The officials recall that a woman claiming that she had been abused came to the office last week on Thursday 4th December but left before her complaint could be addressed. She is welcomed to return again if she believes that her complaint was not addressed, but at this point the evidence is that her version of the facts does not match the records of the Department. I advise the public that for quality assurance and for the protection of both the officers and suspects, we are looking into the possibility of installing cameras in the transporting buses.
Similarly, the complaint by Fred Smith QC, was reported in the press. The report of Mr. Smith does not match the evidence which is available to the Department. In fact, the incident which he describes may have jeopardized the safety of an immigration operation.
Finally, there is the report about the children in the detention centre. I would only say again that if the parents are lawfully in The Bahamas, they are invited to file a complaint either to the embassy of their nationality or directly to the Assistant Director of Immigration Dwight Beneby for investigation. In reviewing the newspaper report, the officials pointed out to me that the individual making the complaint agreed that he had abandoned his children. Again both complaints are being reviewed along with our procedures to be sure that no standard of human dignity or law was violated. Officers take the utmost care in dispensing their duties. We are especially sensitive about the treatment of children.
Subsequent to the press conference of Sunday, 7th December at 2pm, I was advised that the individual in question did return to the Department of Immigration and filed a complete report of complaint. I am further advised that the official complaint is now under active investigation by the department.
Last week’s exercises led to the serious damage to a police vehicle and injuries to an immigration officer.
With regard to the Detention Centre, the public is aware that the Centre is resource challenged and that improvements are ongoing. The Centre is not, however, below humane standards. The Department of Social Services is working now to find a place for women with children to be held and we should be in a position to make an announcement on that matter shortly. In the meantime, the repatriation of 228 people back to their home country including children should take place on Tuesday of this week.
I again urge the patience and support of the public in these matters. We are grateful for the support and trust of the people of the country. We will not abuse that trust. Our borders must be protected and I will seek to the best of my ability as minster to carry out the mandate without fear or favour. I ask those who claim to be representatives of the human rights association to resist public theater and gamesmanship. This is not a game; this is a serious matter in the defence of our country.
Thank you very much indeed.