Xenophobia in the Wake of Disaster

Still deeply entrenched in humanitarian crises triggered by the 2010 earthquake, Haiti suffered another such disaster this past weekend. While our prime minister should have thoughtfully and cautiously allowed Haiti’s recent history with natural disasters to inform public discourse on the event, he instead participated in the global trend of politicising xenophobia. Prime Minister Minnis offered neither aid nor words of support, but instead incited fear of a potential influx of undocumented migrants, and thereby legitimised the ostracisation of Haitians in The Bahamas.

Prime Minister Minnis’s reported reaction to news of the earthquake and resulting aftershock that impacted Haiti on October 6th and 7th was one of defence. He expressed his concern over a potential spike in the number of persons attempting to enter The Bahamas illegally, and informed the public of increased measures to better patrol Bahamian borders in response. Additionally, he expressed fear over damage to a jailhouse, stating that escaped prisoners could wreak “havoc” on the nation, despite the fact that there has not yet been any confirmation of any prisoners having escaped.

These comments reinforce the notion that the only emotions that one should feel with respect to Haitians are those of fear and disdain. The careless choice of words reduces an entire population to criminals and potential illegal immigrants from whom the nation must be defended. The resulting rhetoric strips away the humanity of a people who have collectively and repeatedly suffered traumas which The Bahamas, as a nation, has never come close to knowing. Minnis’s response neglects that these same people are probably terrified and suffering immensely, primarily due to circumstances they did not and could not choose for themselves. It fails to acknowledge that most individuals in these circumstances are merely in search of more humane living conditions. This search does not make them dangerous; it just makes them human.

Contrasting this response with that in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Dominica, it becomes apparent that this reaction from Prime Minister Minnis is grounded in feelings that are specific towards Haitian nationals. Whether these feelings are his own, or merely a reflection of what he believes those of the general public to be, they are not what should be guiding official government statements on international events.

Only a year ago, Prime Minister Minnis asked whether our nation’s charity stops at the borders. These words ought to be remembered. The ability and willingness to value the humanity in others should not be conditional. It should instead be the very basis of our beliefs, our democracy, and our society as a whole.

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