The Bahamas Bar Association along with The International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Grand Bahama Chapter staged a lecture entitled â Shackled Freedom : Immigrant Communities in Crisis, Human Rights and Social Justicesâ on Thursday evening at the Foster B. Pestaina Center.
Elsworth Johnson, President of the Bahamas Bar Association explained that the organization is seeking to fulfil its mandate pursuant to the Legal Profession Act. The primary purpose is to inform members of the public on the new immigration policies, human rights and social issues that have serious legal consequences.
â We are focusing on Human Rights Issues, we want to be timely and we know there is a large immigrant population in The Bahamas. We are concerned about the new measures put in place, and so in terms of assisting members of the public to understand the legal rights of not just immigrants but the public as a whole, this is a series of lectures being put on by the Bar Association in conjunction with the FIDA, and is one of the first in Freeport,â Johnson confirmed.
He admitted that there have been many public forums held in the capital, and he said hopefully Grand Bahama will be the setting for more such lectures in the future.
On the panel were Fred Smith QC and Wayne Munroe QC for the legal aspects; Professor Felix Bethel, College of the Bahamas for social issues; and Louby Georges a local activist speaking on the experiences within the Haitian community.
Prior to the panelists making their presentations Johnson reminded those gathered that the session was not just for Haitian concerns, but for Human Rights, and about everyone in The Bahamas.
â We support the rule of law, because this is a country of laws and we support our Minister in any government enforcing the provisions of the Immigration Act. But, what we say is it must be in compliance with the fundamental rights of the constitution and international treaties. So that is what we are doing today enforcing freedom of expression,â Johnson stated.
Louby Georges, Community Activist introduced himself by saying â I am a Bahamian. I am very patriotic and a nationalistic Bahamian, but of Haitian descent.â
Georges explained that he has had opportunities to speak on these issues previously as he knows what it is like to be an immigrant, â For 24 years I grew up as a Haitian in The Bahamas. It was not the most wonderful experience but I would not change it for anything in the world.â
The Community Activist then said that the problem is that people in The Bahamas believe Haitians are going to take over, and this concern causes the ignorant to treat Haitians as a whole inhumanely. George questioned why the doctor of Haitian decent is referred to as the â Haitian Doctorâ while the Bahamian doctor is simply a doctor, likewise the â Haitian Police Officerâ when the rest are simply police officers.
Georgesâ main concern expressed was that â even when a person of Haitian decent has a Bahamian passport, and as such is a Bahamian citizen they are still regarded as an underclass.â
Wayne Munroe, QC was the last panelist to speak and he shared that he is grateful he has cable TV, because when he listens to the BBC in the morning he realizes that the immigration problem is happening in Australia, the U.K., the U.S. and all over the world.
Munroe lamented the situation whereby children are being left behind as the parents are deported.
A member of the Royal Bahamas Police, of Haitian heritage attended the lecture and informed with The Freeport News that he was disappointed in the panelistsâ comments, particularly the lawyers. He said that he thought it was a timely event.
â But, I also thought that the persons who were presenting used their biasness, especially the jurists.â
The law enforcement officer stated that, â they weren't dealing with it from a law perspective. they were dealing with it in regards to their personal lives, and that in itself colours the judgment of the issues.â
Additionally, he added that, â whether these laws are constitutional, whether they're right, whether they're humane that's the type of issues I thought they were going to discuss.â
As the president of the Bar Association indicated, the lecture series are evoke future discussions on the pressing issues.