Historical and political context of Haitian refugees in the Bahamas, 19 Sept. 1980

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In September 1980, the Lady Moore repatriated 161 illegal Haitian migrants from the Bahamas. It was the ferry’s fourth expedition that year, during which more than 600 Haitians were returned to Haiti. Michèle Montas gives a short history of the status, conditions, and migration patterns of Haitians in the Bahamas. Originally recruited by US multinational corporations as a cheap source of labor to build the Bahamas’ tourist infrastructure in the 1950s and 1960s, the number of Haitian migrants grew rapidly over the decades, particularly fleeing northwest Haiti. By 1963, there were perhaps 10,000 Haitians living in the Bahamas. In 1972, the Haitian and Bahamian governments reached an accord for a certain number of Haitian migrants to come as seasonal agricultural laborers. By 1980, at the time of this recording, there were an estimated 40,000 Haitians living illegally in the Bahamas, and relations between the two countries were strained. The Bahamas claims not to have the resources to provide for the massive influx of Haitian workers, most of whom work in construction, agriculture, or as household laborers. Meanwhile, remittances from Haitian workers in the Bahamas become increasingly crucial to their families in Haiti, and the Bahamian economy continues to rely upon and exploit cheap Haitian labor.

A Haitian man who had been working in the Bahamas but who was returned in 1978, speaks of the discrimination faced by Haitians in the Bahamas. Haitians, regardless of visa status, are paid less than Bahamian workers. Bahamian workers fear that Haitians will take their jobs. The Bahamian government has a goal of repatriating 1000 illegal Haitians per year.

Despite detentions and deportations, people continue to flee Haiti for the Bahamas and Miami, sometimes arriving in the Bahamian archipelago or in Biscayne Bay, sometimes intercepted by the Coast Guard, sometimes drowning. (Report by Michèle Montas)

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