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Bahamian Refugees Rejected From US Rescue Ferry Over Visa Confusion

The U.S. Coast Guard inspects damaged areas by Hurricane Dorian in support of search and rescue and humanitarian aid in the Bahamas, Sept. 4, 2019. The Coast Guard is supporting the Bahamian National Emergency Management Agency and the Royal Bahamian Defense Force, who are leading search and rescue efforts in the Bahamas (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard Seaman Erik Villa Rodriguez)
The U.S. Coast Guard inspects damaged areas by Hurricane Dorian in support of search and rescue and humanitarian aid in the Bahamas, Sept. 4, 2019. The Coast Guard is supporting the Bahamian National Emergency Management Agency and the Royal Bahamian Defense Force, who are leading search and rescue efforts in the Bahamas (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard Seaman Erik Villa Rodriguez)

“As hundreds of thousands of Bahamians seek refuge or start to rebuild after Hurricane Dorian, we cannot have the kind of confusion that occurred last night in Freeport.”

Hundreds of Hurricane Dorian survivors were told to disembark a ferry in Freeport, Grand Bahamas bound for Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Sunday after days on the devastated island with limited water, food, and power. While almost 1,500 Bahamian refugees were ultimately processed in Florida by Customs and Border Control on Saturday, the incident Sunday represents confusion over the official policy on welcoming Dorian survivors.

At least 44 people were killed by the category five hurricane with thousands estimated to be missing and at least 70,000 people left homeless.

Customs and Border Patrol blamed the ferry company for telling the Bahamians to evacuate, according to Brian Entin, a reporter who witnessed the situation: “If those folks did stay on the boat and arrived, we would have processed them,” an official told Entin. “They were not ordered off the boat by any government entity.”

The private ferry company, however, said U.S. authorities told them that visas would be required for entry into the U.S., according to Entin.

“At the last minute like this,” Renard Oliver, a Bahamian refugee with his child, told a reporter with the Miami television station WSVN, “It’s hurtful because I’m watching my daughters cry, but it is what it is.”

On Monday Acting Customs and Border Control head Mark Morgan sought to comfort distressed Bahamians after the incident:

“This is a humanitarian mission,” said Morgan. “If your life is in jeopardy and you’re in the Bahamas … you’re going to be allowed to come to the United States, whether you have travel documents or not.” He said the processing would be handled expeditiously.

President Trump seemed to contradict Morgan’s assurance later the same day, arguing that “very bad people” could exploit the process and warned against welcoming Bahamians.

“We have to be very careful,” Trump said. “Everybody needs totally proper documentation. Because, look, the Bahamas had some tremendous problems with people going to the Bahamas that weren’t supposed to be there.”

“I don’t want to allow people that weren’t supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States — including some very bad people and very bad gang members,” Trump added.

Florida Senator Rick Scott urged officials to clarify the rules on visas and respond to the crisis in a rapid and organized manner.

“As hundreds of thousands of Bahamians seek refuge or start to rebuild after Hurricane Dorian, we cannot have the kind of confusion that occurred last night in Freeport,” said Senator Scott.

Scientists have long warned that climate change will increase the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events. Studies have shown that the relatively poor global south will face harsher consequences than the wealthy global north, exacerbating refugee crises and political polarization.

Critics argue catastrophic storms like Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, and Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas represent some of these intensified storms and warn they will continue to destroy vulnerable societies, leaving victims at the mercy of wealthy governments.

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Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a freelance writer with a Master’s degree in International Conflict Resolution. He has traveled throughout the Middle East and Latin America to gain firsthand insight in some of the world’s most troubled areas, and he plans on publishing his first book in 2019.

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