Author: Olivia Branan
In the aftermath of devastating Hurricane Dorian, around 70,000 Bahamians have been left homeless, with limited access to basic necessities such as food and water. Thousands of these displaced survivors continue to search for a way off the islands, but finding refuge remains difficult, due in part to visa requirements to enter the U.S. While in the past the United States had often welcomed refugees, Bahamians are experiencing first-hand the increasing difficulty of seeking shelter there.
Sept. 8, over 100 refugees were forced to disembark a ferry headed for Florida because they did not have visas. The U.S. government claims it was not responsible for the incident. When asked about the refugee situation, President Donald Trump stated “we have to be very careful,” adding that he does not want to allow entry to “some very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers.”
Bahamian citizens are able to travel to the U.S. with a valid passport if they have no criminal record, although a visa is required for arrival by ship. When passengers of the Balearia Carribean ferry who lacked proper documents were told to debark, many were disappointed that they could not enter the country.
In an interview with The New York Times, 24-year-old Dominique Seymour said that, upon disembarking the ferry with her niece and nephew, “it felt as though [their] chances of leaving the island to find some sort of relief from what [they] were going through at home was taken away.” The passengers were told an hour into the ride that those without visas would be denied entry.
In a press briefing, Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection Mark Morgan stated that anyone whose life is in jeopardy is able to come to the United States without travel documents, although all are vetted upon arrival.
Now, many Bahamians have no option but to stay on the island and retrieve documents proving their clean criminal record. The U.S. Embassy in the Bahamian capital of Nassau, which provides emergency visa appointments, has drawn a large crowd of locals hoping to get the necessary travel documents.
Many refugees from natural disasters come to the United States. After Hurricane Mitch in 1998, tens of thousands of Hondurans and Nicaraguans fled to the U.S. A similar situation occurred after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
The aftermath of the devastating effects of Hurricane Dorian has made the Bahamas extremely vulnerable. Along with the tens of thousands who are left homeless and unable to come to the United States, reports of another storm, Humberto, created even more problems for the island. While it was only a tropical storm when it passed, it is now referred to as Hurricane Humberto, whose winds have reached over 100 miles per hour.
Though the Bahamas are only expected to receive around 1-3 inches of rain, with some areas receiving as much as six inches, Humberto still poses a challenge to the islands dealing with the wreckage from Dorian.
Thousands of people in the Bahamas are still without electricity, shelter or clean water. You can donate to the Red Cross at www.redcross.org or text DORIAN to 90999 to make a $10 donation.