Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell (right) addresses the media regarding his recent trip to Haiti. Also accompanying the minister on his trip were Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) Commodore Roderick Bowe (left) and Minister of State for National Security Keith Bell.
By Taneka Thompson
Nassau Guardian Senior Reporter
NASSAU, Bahamas -- Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell said on Friday that a delegation he led to Haiti had a “successful bilateral discussion” which the Bahamas government hopes will lead to a slowdown in illegal immigration to The Bahamas and increased trade.
Plans for the expansion of The Bahamas’ diplomatic presence in Haiti were also discussed.
Mitchell said the two countries agreed to have a public education and communications program in the north of Haiti to warn people against travelling to The Bahamas illegally.
Michell said the program will stress that Haitians caught in human smuggling operations will be prosecuted and sent home.
He said the government must look at the range of penalties for the captains of ships used for human smuggling.
Mitchell said the two countries also agreed to cooperation between their respective military forces to beef up intelligence, which can aid the fight against illegal migration.
He said The Bahamas is also looking at increasing its diplomatic presence in northern Haiti.
“The issue of migration is perhaps the most vexing issue which is outstanding between The Bahamas and Haiti,” said Mitchell at a press conference.
“While we can’t fix this problem we can better manage the problem and that is what the discussions in Haiti were about.
“All of these are aggressive measures taken by the government and proposed by the government to try and get on top of this problem.
“One of the messages we wanted to reinforce down there was the fact that we’re about to spend close to $250 million buying these nine new ships, and these nine new ships are the muscle behind the promise that the government is making in regard to stopping illegal migration.”
The government recently brought a resolution to Parliament to borrow money to purchase new vessels for the Royal Bahamas Defence Force.
Mitchell said representatives also discussed how both sides can help to improve the economy of northern Haiti.
He said the Bahamas government is looking to quickly conclude negotiations on an agreement that would allow Haiti to export fresh fruit to The Bahamas.
Mitchell said he thinks the Haitian government wants to solve the illegal immigration problem.
“Now we think we’ve got a period of stability and we’re just hoping against hope that we have a stable government and a government that’s committed,” he said.
“They say that Haiti is open for business, so that’s what we’re going to do, test the mettle so to speak.
“I think there is a resolve on their part to try and put a stop to it.”
Minister of State for National Security Keith Bell accompanied Mitchell on the trip.
Bell said that during the meetings, The Bahamas’ delegation expressed concern about illegal weapons and drugs that are often brought to this country from Haiti.
RBDF Commodore Roderick Bowe and Assistant Director of Immigration Hubert Ferguson were also a part of the delegation.
Last year, the Department of Immigration spent just over $1 million to repatriate more than 3,500 illegal immigrants.
The group was made up mostly of Haitians, according to Immigration Director William Pratt.
Republished with permission of the Nassau Guardian