By Krystel Rolle
Nassau Guardian Staff Reporter
NASSAU, Bahamas -- Bahamas Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell on Thursday held talks with Haitian President Michel Martelly and Haitian Trade Minister Wilson Laleau in a bid to develop strategies to stem the inflow of Haitian migrants, who continue to illegally enter The Bahamas.
Mitchell is representing Prime Minister Perry Christie at the 33rd Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Governments of the Caribbean Community in St Lucia.
Laleau called the meeting to discuss a possible agriculture trade agreement with The Bahamas, Mitchell said, adding that immigration matters were also discussed during the meeting.
“The north of Haiti is where people come [from] into The Bahamas,” Mitchell told The Nassau Guardian via telephone following the meeting on Thursday. “With the death of agriculture in that area, this has created economic pressure for people to migrate and they are hoping that if they can get things going back in that area that this may stop people from coming and, of course, our interest is to stop people from coming.”
Mitchell said the Haitian officials are committed to reducing illegal migration among their people.
“They are concerned about it,” he said. “Foreign affairs has been left to one side in our country for five years and we're really just trying to get things going again. This requires consistent work on the part of the ministry to keep it going and that's what we plan to do."
Mitchell added that the recent human smuggling disaster in Abaco that left at least 11 people dead, was also discussed.
"The feeling is you can use coercive means to try and stop it and certainly that has to be a part of the mix,” he said. “But if the economy can get going in that part of Haiti, then that may be a more effective way of trying to stop it.”
The 11 victims were a part of a group of 28 people onboard a 25-foot vessel, “Cosy Time”, which went down in waters off Crown Haven, North Abaco, last month. Authorities believe that the 10 passengers who are still unaccounted for are dead. Seven passengers survived. The victims were reportedly all of Haitian descent.
In 2009, 718 Haitian immigrants were apprehended, compared to the 1,258 apprehended in 2010, reflecting an increase of around 34 percent, according to Defence Force operational statistics.
However, in 2011, 1,093 Haitian immigrants were apprehended representing a decrease of around 13 percent compared to the previous year.
Mitchell also spoke about the three Bahamians being held in Haiti in connection with a stolen Pineapple Air plane that went missing from Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) in May.
The aircraft, which is currently in Haiti, is being held by the judiciary.
Mitchell said during the meeting he asked the Haitian minister of trade to intervene in an effort to return the aircraft to The Bahamas
"I asked them to use their best efforts to get it released," he said.
As for the three Bahamians, Mitchell said they will remain in Haiti until a judge makes a decision in their case.
However, he said the men have been contacted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
"They are well represented," he added.
Republished with permission of the Nassau Guardian