Haitians in hurricane-devastated Bahamas face uncertain future

Nassau (Bahamas) (AFP) –


Even before Hurricane Dorian destroyed their shantytown on Abaco Island, life was not easy for the Haitian immigrant community in the Bahamas.

Now the loss of everything they own is compounded by fear about the future.

"I need help," said Blondel Vincent, a Haitian with Bahamian nationality. "I have four children and a wife."

Vincent, 41, a carpenter, lost his home in the storm and is staying with his wife and children in a Baptist church in a Haitian-majority neighborhood in Nassau.

Vincent is among the members of the Haitian community who have been evacuated from Abaco to Nassau, which is further to the south and was largely spared the wrath of the Category 5 hurricane.

The Mudd shantytown in Marsh Harbour, where many of the Haitians on Abaco lived, was turned into a pile of rubble by the storm as it ripped apart their flimsy homes.

"The Mudd is gone," said Brian Kelly of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

"They (Haitians) are in a very tough situation, just as many of the Bahamians," said Kelly, who is leading the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team.

"A lot of people are facing very difficult circumstances," Kelly said in a statement.

Many of the tens of thousands of Haitians in the Bahamas have arrived illegally and fear being sent home.

Even some Haitians like Vincent who have Bahamian nationality face the potential threat of deportation because they lost their official documents in the storm.

"Some lost their passports or work permits," said Dorval Darlier, the charge d'affaires for Haiti in the Bahamas.

"The government could give them two- to five-year permits to stay until they are legalized," Darlier told AFP.

- Prejudice -

Haitians have lived in the Bahamas for hundreds of years but many suffer from poverty, a lack of education and prejudice, in part because of their religious practices, which for some may include a belief in voodoo.

As an AFP correspondent was interviewing Vincent, a man interrupted, shouting at the camera that Haitians were responsible for the misfortunes they have suffered such as the 2010 earthquake which left tens of thousands dead.

"The people of that country have no God!" the man said. "The Haitians are taking up all the room in the shelters! They are useless!"

Vincent listened without flinching and spoke calmly.

"This makes me feel bad," he said. "I am also a citizen and my whole family is Haitian. I am also a victim and I need help."

Pastor Walter Lucien, who is of Haitian origin, said such incidents are frequent and complained that Bahamian government assistance has been slow to arrive for the hurricane victims sheltering in his church.

"They come, talk, and then nothing happens," Lucien told AFP. "Just today some beds arrived. They promised to bring food and stuff, but nothing..."

Lucien's church has suspended religious services while it tends to about 100 refugees, both Haitians and Bahamians.

The death toll from the monster storm has reached 50 but Bahamian officials said they expect it to rise significantly in the days to come.

According to the Nassau Guardian newspaper, 4,800 people have been evacuated from Abaco and nearby Grand Bahama Island, which was also decimated by the storm.