NASSAU, Bahamas — More than 100 Haitian migrants were deported on Thursday, six weeks after Hurricane Dorian leveled Abaco and Grand Bahama in the northern Bahamas with a devastating wallop that struck the Haitian community especially hard.
It was unclear how manystorm survivors were among 112 Haitians deported. While the deportation of Haitians is not uncommon, the matter has been contentious in the aftermath of the monster hurricane.
The issue of illegal immigration from Haiti to the Bahamas has spanned decades, with Haitian nationals long stigmatized in the country.
Outside the island of New Providence, Abacowas believed to have had the largest population of Haitians, many residing in informal shantytowns. The largest two, The Mudd and Pigeon Pea, in Abaco’s capital, Marsh Harbour, suffered severe wind and flood damage.
Dorian’s official death toll is 61, but officials believe that many bodies remain among the rubble in Abaco’s shantytowns.
Marsh Harbour residents who survived the storm were urged to evacuate to shelters on the island of New Providence. The shelters, which housed more than 2,000 people at one point, were largely filled with Haitians and people of Haitian descent.
In the immediate aftermath of Dorian, the immigration minister, Elsworth Johnson, said the government would suspend deportations in parts of the country that were affected by the storm. The shelters, he said, qualified as affected areas.
But the moratorium appeared to have expired last week, when Mr. Johnson said undocumented migrants still in shelters would be deported.
Several organizations have raised concerns over the treatment of migrants. The International Organization for Migration said this month that fear of the authorities was “widespread, even among documented migrants and Bahamian nationals of Haitian descent, some of whom have lost their documents in the hurricane.”
Other rights groups have condemned the government’s plans to deport survivors, citing the trauma of the storm and the social turmoil in Haiti.
But in an interview with The Nassau Guardian, Mr. Johnson said that “at the end of the day, we must do what is in the best interest of the Bahamas while still protecting the dignity of the human person.”
Prime Minister Hubert Minnis has warned that undocumented migrants affected by Hurricane Dorian would not receive asylum or special treatment. He also warned Bahamian businesses not to hire migrants without work permits. Even those Haitians who were working legally but lost their jobs as a result of the storm were told that applications for new work permits must be filed from outside the Bahamas.
Many who face deportation were born in the Bahamas and have never known another home. Alicia Reckley, 37, a mother of five, was born in Haiti but is married to a Bahamian, and thus is exempt from deportation.
But Mrs. Reckley is worried about her 11-year-old niece, who was born in the Bahamas to Haitian parents and has neither Haitian nor Bahamian documents. The child’s mother was deported last year.
“She’s crying nonstop,” Mrs. Reckley said of her niece. “At night, all she does is cry.”
The shantytowns where many migrants lived have long been a lightning rod. Now, more than a year after the government embarked on a plan to eradicate shantytowns on Abaco, Dorian appears to have helped finish the job.
The Minnis administration announced its plan last year, but a local human rights group obtained an injunction from the Supreme Court blocking demolition. Thousands of people were still residing in the communities when Dorian made landfall.
The government’s eradication efforts have come to the forefront again as Mr. Minnis has highlighted the safety risks associated with the remaining structures. Last month, the government banned new construction in Abaco’s shantytowns.
Contracts were awarded to several companies for the cleanup and days later, images emerged of one shantytown being bulldozed.