NASSAU, Bahamas – An estimated 1,500 Haitians are to be evicted from a cluster of overcrowded shacks on a Bahamian island east of Miami, leaving residents and the government to wonder where the community will settle next.
Eviction notices were issued because a new owner took over the 5-acre (2-hectare) property on Abaco Island that has housed the Haitian community for more than 30 years.
The community is a mix of permanent residents, naturalized citizens and migrants who may or may not have work permits, said Jetta Baptiste, president of the Bahamas' Haitian Society. Many are waiting for immigration officials to process their paperwork, she said.
The 500-home settlement, known as Pigeon Pea, borders an even larger Haitian settlement called "The Mud" that was built on state land. It is home to more than 2,000 Haitian families who live just yards (meters) away from the immigration department in Marsh Harbor.
The densely packed community of overcrowded wooden homes, churches and businesses has angered Bahamians for decades.
Local government representative Roscoe Thompson III helped hand out eviction notices this week and said he hopes the action will spur the government to also evict those living in "The Mud."
Immigration Director Jack Thompson said he expects the government will need to launch a multi-agency approach to handle the eviction of Pigeon Pea residents in November.
But Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, who represents North Abaco in Parliament, has not said what role, if any, the government will play. He said he hopes the local government will find new homes for those displaced.
The evictions come as the government continues to repatriate Haitian migrants who flee a country still struggling to rebuild from a January earthquake that killed an estimated 230,000 people and left 1.3 million homeless.
Some 100 Haitians held in the Bahamas at the time of the quake were released and granted temporary protected status for six months. Repatriations of other Haitians resumed in early April.
On Monday, authorities detained a group of 56 men, 14 women and 13 children near the Exuma island chain and expect to send them back to Haiti.