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Breaking News:

Cables: ‘Alarming’ Haitian birth rate

BY CANDIA DAMES
Guardian News Editor
candia@nasguard.com

Published: Jul 04, 2011

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A U.S. diplomatic cable points to what many Bahamians have known for decades through anecdotal information: An “alarming” number of children are being born to Haitian women at Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH).

But the cable — which is a part of the WikiLeaks documents obtained by The Nassau Guardian weeks ago — does not say just how many babies are born annually to Haitian women at the country’s primary public hospital.

After checking the figures, Minister of Health Dr. Hubert Minnis informed The Nassau Guardian that of the approximately 5,000 babies who are born at PMH every year, about 600 are born to Haitian women.

Government officials rarely make public any information on Haitian birth rates.

In 2005, a report from the Ministry of Health highlighting the issue was made public.

That report showed that 76 or 63 percent of all babies born at the Marsh Harbour Clinic in 2003 were to Haitian mothers, while 45 or 38 percent were to Bahamian mothers.

According to that report, this was the first district in which the number of infants born to Haitians was greater than the number of infants born to Bahamians.

It was also revealed that of the 31 women who delivered at the Coopers Town Clinic in 2003, 51.6 percent were Bahamians and 48.4 percent were Haitians.

In the diplomatic cables, U.S. Embassy officials widely discuss the state of Haitians in The Bahamas.

“Many children of long-time Haitians living as Bahamian residents have become de facto stateless,” said one of the cables.

It points to a Haitian pastor who had lived in Abaco for 25 years, returning to Haiti once a year for visits.

“He told the political officer (of the embassy) that he is confident he will receive

Bahamian citizenship ‘soon’, although he applied 14 years ago in 1991, and has heard little from the Department of Immigration since,” the cable said.

According to a 2006 IOM study, there are an estimated 30,000 to 60,000 Haitians in The Bahamas who "are not well integrated into Bahamian society."

The cable noted that the study found distrust of authority by the Haitian community and claims of abuse of Haitians.

There has long been discussion about the strain undocumented Haitian migrants continue to place on social services.

The issue was raised late last week when Director of Immigration Jack Thompson spoke to a group of public school principals.

Thompson called on the principals to report unregularized students who register at their institutions, saying the Department of Immigration intends to “flush out” undocumented foreign nationals enrolled in the public school system.

He said The Bahamas cannot afford to have illegal immigrants in the public school system “absorbing our resources.”

“You should call me and tell me where they are living because I have to deal with them,” Thompson told the principals.

“We have to hit at the root.  The root is the parent.  I am not in the business of sending the children home and not the parents or sending the parents and not sending the children.  We have to send them together.”

It is understood that his comments caused concern and alarm in some quarters, including in the Haitian community.

On Friday, after the story ran, the director of immigration softened his tone on the issue, emphasizing that his department does not intend to enter schools and remove children who do not have legal status to be in the country.

Thompson told The Nassau Guardian he did not have specific numbers on how many children born to Haitian parents are enrolled in the public school system.

He said immigration and education officials were working on getting an accounting.

The numbers are believed to be significant, and many Bahamians continue to be outraged.

As reported recently by The Nassau Guardian, the Americans are of the view that the unaddressed issue of Haitian integration in The Bahamas could eventually lead to ethnic violence in this country.

“The existence of a large, dissatisfied and poorly-integrated ethnic minority is a potential risk to social and political stability in The Bahamas,” said the embassy.

One 2005 U.S. Embassy cable that focused on the Haitian communities of the Mud and Pigeon Pea in Abaco noted that while many Bahamians are upset at the unregulated Haitian settlements in The Bahamas, tensions on the ground do not run as high as the media rhetoric would suggest.

It is estimated that 10,000 residents live in those communities.

Vocal Bahamians in Abaco say that The Bahamas will be "creolized" in 10 years if the government doesn't take action, noted one of the cables.

“While some Bahamians see mass deportations as the answer, others increasingly recognize the need to encourage the assimilation of Haitians into Bahamian society,” a U.S. Embassy official wrote.

“On the other side, Haitian-Bahamians have grown increasingly frustrated at the Government of The Bahamas’ lack of responsiveness to their requests for citizenship.

“Most do not want to return to the completely foreign country of their parents, but they struggle against second class status in The Bahamas.  As one young Haitian-Bahamian woman pointed out, ‘The Government of The Bahamas has to figure out how to deal with us.  We're here, and we're multiplying’.”

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