The Bahamas hosted 100 refugees recognized by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2000. Most were Cubans (96); the remainder were from Africa. During the year, 57 persons filed asylum claims. No cases were approved in 2000. Two asylum seekers recommended by UNHCR for approval – one from Nigeria and one from Sierra Leone – were awaiting decisions at year's end. During the year, 54 failed asylum seekers were returned to their home countries.
The Bahamas has not enacted legislation implementing the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol, which the Bahamas adopted in 1993. UNHCR-trained Bahamian immigration authorities conduct refugee status determinations and asylum interviews and make recommendations to the immigration director. UNHCR evaluates all claims and makes its own recommendations to the director. When the immigration director finds that an individual qualifies for asylum, the case is forwarded to the Ministerial Cabinet, which makes the final decision to grant asylum. When the director finds that an individual does not qualify for asylum, the individual is ordered deported without the Ministerial Cabinet's involvement in the process.
The Bahamas generally detains asylum seekers and refugees until the Ministerial Cabinet makes a final decision on their claims. The period of detention can be lengthy, and detention conditions are poor. In December, the Bahamian government transferred all detained asylum seekers and refugees to the newly reopened Carmichael Road detention facility. Until December, asylum seekers and refugees had been held in prison.
A 1998 repatriation agreement 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. However, according to UNHCR, the Bahamian government screens all migrants to identify potential asylum seekers, and any migrant expressing a fear of persecution has full access to the refugee determination process. Additionally, the Bahamas does not provide Cuban authorities with the names of Cuban migrants until the refugee determination process is complete. During the year, the Bahamas intercepted 382 Cubans at sea. All were returned to Cuba, including 44 failed asylum seekers.
More than 600 Haitians arrived in Bahamian waters in one week during the spring. Almost 300 arrived in one boat that ran aground in the Bahamas; at least 14 died before the boat reached safety.
On May 2, the Bahamas returned the Haitian shipwreck survivors in accordance with a bilateral agreement between the countries. Amnesty International and other nongovernmental organizations said that among the returnees were Haitians who claimed they were fleeing election-related violence, and that the Bahamas denied them access to asylum hearings in violation of international refugee law.
On May 10, a UNHCR representative told the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) that only one Haitian who arrived on the shipwrecked boat in May requested asylum, and that the individual was interviewed by UNHCR and was not among those repatriated. UNHCR also stated that the Bahamian government conducted screenings for refugees when the boats arrived in April and May, that the Bahamian government was in constant contact with UNHCR during the screening process, and that the Bahamian government agreed that UNHCR could be present for all shipboard screenings. U.S. Coast Guard officials continued to intercept Haitian migrants in or near Bahamian waters throughout the summer.