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September 13, 2019
In the area of Marsh Harbor on Abaco Island in the Bahamas was a small, impoverished community that was mostly home to Haitians. The Mudd, as it was known, was wiped out during Hurricane Dorian. We do not know how many people perished. Lack of communication and lack of options meant there was no coordinated evacuation of the area. There is little left now. Those who did survive have nothing but the clothes they are wearing. Some have been relocated to Nassau. Others are still in the ruins Marsh Harbor trying to decide what to do next. From AP:
Some dazed survivors of Hurricane Dorian made their way back to a shantytown where they used to live, hoping to gather up some of their soggy belongings.
The community was known as The Mudd — or “Da Mudd,” as it’s often pronounced — and it was built by thousands of Haitian migrants over decades. It was razed in a matter of hours by Dorian, which reduced it to piles of splintered plywood and two-by-fours 4 and 5 feet deep, spread over an area equal to several football fields.
A helicopter buzzed overhead as people picked through the debris, avoiding a body that lay tangled underneath a tree branch next to twisted sheets of corrugated metal, its hands stretched toward the sky. It was one of at least nine bodies that people said they had seen in the area.
“Ain’t nobody come to get them,” said Cardot Ked, a 43-year-old carpenter from Haiti who has lived 25 years in Abaco. “If we could get to the next island, that’s the best thing we can do.”
Migration from Haiti
Following the earthquake in 2010, and in the face of the slow, but continuous economic decline since, more and more people are leaving Haiti. They have gone to Brazil and Chile, and more recently walked thousands of miles to seek asylum at the U.S./Mexico border. Hundreds have relocated permanently in border towns like Tijuana, with little or no chance of ever getting into the United States. Many more people have boarded onto small boats and sought refuge in other countries of the Caribbean. In the Bahamas, and elsewhere, these more recent migrants from Haiti join with communities established during earlier periods of exodus - especially the period from the fall of Duvalier in the mid-1980s through the coup d’etat against Aristide’s first government in 1991 and the reinstatement of the elected government in 1995.
The Mudd was one of these communities. People fleeing the violence of the late 1980s and early 1990s, settled in the Bahamas, where Haitians had been engaged with the local economy for decades. From the 1980s forward, though, resentment against Haitian migrants began to grow more pronounced. As a result, communities like the Mudd were isolated socially, even as the labor of the people who lived there was utilized in the hotels of Marsh Harbor and other tourist businesses. There have been very few formal studies of the Haitian community in the Bahamas. Indeed, several different news stories in the last week all cite the same study (without mentioning it is 11 years old) from the College of the Bahamas Research Journal in reference to the historic marginalization Haitians have experienced in the Bahamas. As the research shows, Haitians that resettled in the Bahamas from the 1980s into the 1990s were working in the lowest paying jobs, were separated by language, and, as happens to migrant communities everywhere, were blamed for crime and poor health conditions. By the time of the 2000 census in the Bahamas, Haitians made up 7.1 percent of the population, though most lived on New Providence, Grand Bahama, Abaco or Eleuthera. Overall, Haitians accounted for 56 percent of foreign-born persons in the Bahamas.
Since the earthquake in 2010, migration from Haiti has increased, and has diversified. Nearly 100,000 Haitians moved to Chile, for example, which has more recently begun its own crack down on immigrants. In the Bahamas, the push back against Haitians living there has been severe, set against this history of marginalization. In 2014, for example, a new law required everyone to carry a passport with them - a law everyone knew was targeting Haitian migrants. Even Haitians born in the Bahamas faced deportation - as citizenship is not conferred upon birth, but must be applied for as an adult. As a result, the government:
stepped-up immigration raids in predominantly Haitian shantytowns, where people who lacked passports or work permits were apprehended. When illegal immigrants ran from officers, the agents knocked down doors and took their children, and the photos of toddlers being carried away circulated widely on social media.
Since the policy took effect Nov. 1, children born in the Bahamas have been deported with their parents, and others with Haitian-sounding names have been pulled from school classrooms, human rights observers said. The government acknowledges that even Bahamian citizens with French surnames are frequently arrested by mistake.
As we have come to see in the United States and elsewhere, enforcement measure even target children as a means to track down families.
The Bahamian government announced that the new policy would go a step further: By next fall, schools will be asked to ensure that every child has a student permit. The annual $125 permit and a passport with a residency stamp will be required even of children born in the Bahamas who do not hold Bahamian citizenship.
The tough new policy echoes similar stances around the region, where new citizenship policies and anti-immigration measures have overwhelmingly affected Haitians, who are fleeing the hemisphere’s poorest country and are the most likely group to migrate illegally in great numbers. The top court in the Dominican Republic ruled in 2013 that the children of illegal immigrants, even if they are born in the country, did not have the right to citizenship.
Since the hurricane struck the Bahamas, there have been quite a few articles about the situation of Haitians on the islands. In part, because the communities where they lived, like the Mudd, were among the hardest hit. This is no accident, or course. “Natural” disasters have a way of manifesting the grave inequities that humans create. The poorest die in the largest numbers, are the least likely to access services and find shelter after a storm, and are, for lack of resources, the least likely to be able to move on - though many may be forced to anyway.
There are thousands of people missing - many are from communities like the Mudd that were washed away. The final death toll will no doubt be much higher than we can imagine at the moment. In the wake of this storm, the struggle to rebuild lives is already generating conflict, as scarce resources highlight existing tensions. At least that is the story being told. The international media is well known for finding the most sensational stories of conflict and tension - ignoring the many, many acts of cooperation and mutual support. We can hope that such stories will emerge in the coming weeks as well.
In the United States, especially Florida, where many people are relocating from the Bahamas, there are also stories of support. Organizations have mobilized to provide shelter and offer other assistance to refugees from the storm. Emergency response and support are important and help build bonds of friendship and support. But we also have to get better at addressing the ongoing structural violence that makes these disasters so much worse.
Our president is still Trump. From Salon:
At first it appeared that citizens of the Bahamas, an archipelago nation just 110 miles from Florida, would be free to enter the United States, as has been the case in the past. Then an apparent decision by a private maritime operator to avoid trouble with U.S. Customs and Border Protection over the weekend was compounded by President Trump’s pronouncement that hurricane survivors included “some very bad people" who should be left stranded. Trump’s comments on Monday made clear that a policy change, initially sold as a miscommunication by his administration, was actually another capricious act of cruelty, a needlessly inhumane move to block natural disaster refugees.
"We have to be very careful. Everyone needs totally proper documentation,” Trump said in front of the White House after he returned from a weekend of golf on Monday. “I don't want to allow people who weren't supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States, including some very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers."
The president then suggested that these very bad people are likely to exploit humanitarian assistance. "The Bahamas has tremendous problems with people going to the Bahamas who weren't supposed to be there," Trump said before adding that, "believe it or not," some parts of the Bahamas were not hit hard by Hurricane Dorian.
According to Trump, the 70,000 people displaced by the hurricane should simply move to other parts of the Bahamas. If they want to come here, they must have proper documentation, because “bad people” may take advantage of the situation.