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Haitian activists welcome focus on citizenship issue

Guardian Senior Reporter

Published: Oct 04, 2013

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Two activists in the Haitian community said yesterday they hope the government will lower the application age for citizenship for people born in The Bahamas to non-Bahamians.

Rev. Antoine St. Louis, president of the United Association of Haitians and Bahamians in The Bahamas, and Pastor Henri Cheraime, of Calvary Baptist Church, also welcomed the announcement by Prime Minister Perry Christie that a commission will be appointed to deal with the issue of children born in The Bahamas to foreign parents.

St. Louis said he hopes the commission will have some impact on the plight of children born in this category.

He said he hopes the commission will consider recommending that people in this group are granted automatic citizenship or at least recommend lowering the age they are eligible to apply.

Children born in The Bahamas to foreign parents do not automatically become citizens but are allowed, under the constitution, to apply for citizenship between their 18th and 19th birthdays.

“Why can’t [you] apply at 14 so by the time you leave school at 17 or 18 you would know where you stand, your future would be brighter,” St. Louis said.

He said many people in this category have to put their lives on hold while they await a decision from the Department of Immigration.

“They are stateless because they can’t do anything,” St. Louis said. “They have no nationality really.  Even after 18 when they apply, it takes so long to be granted or not granted [citizenship].

“They are in limbo for a longer period of time when they can be contributing to the growth of The Bahamas, when they can go to college and be more productive instead of being in limbo for two years or three years.”

Cheraime was born in Haiti and has lived in The Bahamas for 33 years. He said the government has to make a decision on the issue.

“If the government is able to do something to help these people that would be a great thing,” Cheraime said.

“Whatever the government decides to do to assist these people the community would be pleased with that.”

He also said the age at which people born in The Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents can apply for citizenship should be lowered from 18.

“You get children who were born here, they went to school from kindergarten until they graduate,” Cheraime said.

“Now when they reach inside [the Department of] Immigration they ask them [for] so many different documents.

“They still have to wait for three, four, five or six years before they give [them an answer]. We call that injustice.  You don’t do that to people, because they [were] born here.”

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