Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 August 2016, 10:34 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Bahamas

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 January 1999
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Bahamas , 1 January 1999, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8d334.html [accessed 24 August 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

At the end of 1998, the Bahamas hosted about 100 refugees and asylum seekers. All were Cubans. During the year, 464 asylum seekers filed claims. Bahamian authorities approved 20 cases and denied 423, a 4.7 percent approval rate. At year's end, 21 cases were pending and 80 recognized refugees were still in need of durable solutions. No refugees were resettled to third countries during the year, nor were any known to have voluntarily repatriated.

All of the Cubans who entered into the asylum procedure had first been interdicted by the Bahamian authorities or by the U.S. Coast Guard. An unspecified number of Haitians were also interdicted during the year, detained temporarily in the Bahamas, and deported to Haiti. Interdicted migrants are held at the Carmichael Road Detention Center in Nassau in unsanitary and overcrowded conditions, often for long periods. The facility is controlled by immigration officials and Bahamian security forces.

Although the Bahamas acceded to the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol in 1993, it declined to adjudicate asylum claims until May 1998, deferring that role to UNHCR. Although the Bahamian government decided to assume this responsibility on an ad hoc basis, within months it acknowledged that it could not do a satisfactory job in the absence of formal determination procedures.

On August 14, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordered the Bahamas to stop deporting potential refugees from the Carmichael Road Detention Center. The order came in response to a petition submitted by the Forced Migration Project of the Open Society Institute and the Center for Justice and International Law. It alleged that the Bahamas lacks due process for asylum seekers and that many detainees had been denied the opportunity to assert a claim for refugee status.

Although no recognized refugees were known to have voluntarily repatriated during the year, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported in May that it had assisted in the voluntary repatriation of 130 Haitians, 12 Chinese, 7 Indians, and 1 Pakistani from the Bahamas since July 1997. IOM reported testimony from the Indians that they had been apprehended by the U.S. Coast Guard within sight of Florida. Because they had embarked from the Bahamas in the last leg of their journey to the United States, the Coast Guard returned them to the Bahamas.

On August 1, IOM assisted another 21 Chinese to repatriate. All were males between the ages of 18 and 25, and had been on the same vessel.

According to press reports, the Bahamas returned 262 Cubans to Cuba in 1998, although the number returning voluntarily, if any, was not specified, nor was there any indication of how many may have sought asylum prior to repatriation.

A 1996 memorandum of understanding between the Bahamas and Cuba authorizes the Bahamas to deport newly arriving undocumented Cubans immediately upon arrival. The agreement includes no provision for determining whether Cuban asylum seekers qualify for refugee status, nor any assurances the Cuban government will not punish the returnees.

In January 1998, USCR wrote an opinion column in the Washington Post pointing out the disparities in U.S. refugee policy in the Caribbean, citing as its principal example the Bahamian authorities' forcible repatriation to Cuba of a UNHCR-recognized refugee despite UNHCR's attempts to intervene on the refugee's behalf. USCR pointed out that the same day that this occurred, the U.S. Coast Guard brought to Freeport two Cuban baseball stars and six of their boatmates who had been stranded on a small Bahamian island after they escaped from Cuba. The United States offered humanitarian visas to the baseball players and the common-law wife of one player (but not to their fellow boat passengers). The piece also criticized the Bahamas for committing refoulement, the forced return of a refugee, an act prohibited by international law.

As it turned out, except for the common-law wife, who accepted the U.S. offer, all of the others accepted an invitation from Costa Rica to reside there. The baseball players reportedly would enhance their income generating potential if they went to Costa Rica and joined Major League baseball as free agents, rather than accepting U.S. visas and entering through the amateur draft.

In March, nine Cubans, including three prominent baseball players and a coach, were the subject of intense publicity and a wide search because they were believed to have been lost at sea. On March 9, they appeared in the Bahamas, where the authorities reportedly granted asylum to the five non-baseball players. The baseball players said that they had been banned from playing baseball in Cuba because the authorities suspected that they would defect.

On May 26, the Bahamas forcibly returned 72 Cuban rafters, bringing to 198 the number of Cubans repatriated by the Bahamas in a nine-day span (61 on May 21 and 65 on May 18). The returnees included the three well-known baseball players and the coach.

UNHCR reportedly determined that they were not refugees, but Cuban exile groups insisted that baseball players who seek to defect are branded as traitors and persecuted.

The president of Nicaragua reportedly offered to give asylum to the Cubans in the Bahamas, but the Bahamian government claimed not to have received his letter.

CNN quoted the Bahamian permanent secretary for foreign affairs saying, "We do not want to be used as a transit point for the Cubans wishing to enter the United States."

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