Help for Deported Criminals, Resettled Here

The International Organization for Migration [IOM] will likely play a key role in a programme to help resettle criminal deportees in The Bahamas, according to Daniel O’Connor, Political, Economic and Public Affairs chief at the United States Embassy.

The International Organization for Migration [IOM] will likely play a key role in a programme to help resettle criminal deportees in The Bahamas, according to Daniel O’Connor, Political, Economic and Public Affairs chief at the United States Embassy.

Caribbean governments have for many years been concerned about the matter which was explored substantially at the Conference on the Caribbean in June when heads of government met with US President George Bush, US congressmen and other North American decision markers.

Mr. O’Connor told the Bahama Journal that the details are still being worked out.

"We are going to be working through the International Organization for Migration, so they are really going to spearhead the effort to try to help reintegrate deportees into various other countries and The Bahamas is going to be one of those countries," he said.

"The International Organization for Migration is just getting started with this so at this point what the US embassy’s role would be is not set out."

The Bahamas has accepted over 700 Bahamians over the last ten years who were deported from other countries after having served jail time abroad, according to figures compiled by the Royal Bahamas Police Force.

One of the major bones of contention between countries in the Caribbean region and the United States, from where the vast majority of deportees come, has been funding for such a programme.

Currently there are extremely high hopes for a reintegration programme in Haiti that many people are anxious to have replicated in other countries. Concerns have been largely centered on the how these deportees can learn to live in and adapt to a society that, in many ways, is largely foreign to them.

It’s a concern that the Commissioner of Police Paul Farquharson has also registered.

"I’ll give you an example," he told the Bahama Journal in a recent interview. "There are several criminal deportees that arrive on our doorstep. They don’t know anyone in The Bahamas, they don’t have any relatives and therefore that person could be exposed to further crimes because they don’t have any money."

According to statistics from the Royal Bahamas Police Force, between 1997 and the present roughly 800 criminal deportees were repatriated to The Bahamas. Over 30 of them have been sent back here so far this year, the figures show.

Over the last five years, the number has fluctuated between just under 60 to over 100 per year, with 2003 recording the highest number over the past ten years at 124.

The police said the deportees were largely from the U.S.

Statistics have shown that deportees to the Caribbean region have largely come from the U.S., the U.K. and Canada. Each year, those three countries repatriate thousands of persons who have been convicted of various crimes.

A report on crime and violence in the Caribbean region that was compiled by the World Bank said between 1998 and 2004, the US alone deported 31,000 convicted criminals to the Caribbean.

According to details released from the Department of Homeland Security, if the current pace continues, there will likely be a 10 percent increase in the total number of criminal deportees from the United States at the end of the 2007 fiscal year over fiscal year 2006’s total of just under 200,000.

The U.S. deported 197,707 persons in fiscal year 2006, statistics showed. It is estimated that 1.6 million adults and children have been separated from their spouses and parents because of the 1996 law that requires the mandatory deportation of persons who have served prison sentences.

Not everyone has endorsed the one strike policy that the U.S. has continued to adopt. For instance, the Council On Hemispheric Affairs [COHA] in a report made mention of the fact that rising crime rates in the Caribbean have often been directly linked to criminal deportees from the U.S. COHA is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax exempt research and information organization.

"Immediate transferal of criminals back to their home countries only leaves the door open for the creation of organized crime networks at home; many Caribbean nations have complained of such results as their nationals, who, having become hardened criminals, return after spending years in the U.S., bringing their skills and connections back to their home islands," the group said.

"If the deportation policy is to remain active in the U.S., there must be specific programs of rehabilitation and reintegration of deportees into the societies to which they are returned. To complement this, effective monitoring systems must also be put in place to ensure against the resurgence of criminal activity."

The pilot project in Haiti offers resettlement and reintegration services for Haitians who have been repatriated from the United States and other countries after being convicted and serving their sentences for crimes like armed robbery, drug and illegal firearms offences, murder and other crimes.

The services provided range from counseling and vocational training to skills development and micro-credit lending. The pilot project in Haiti operates with a $1 million grant from the U.N. Development Program to the IOM, which provides support for the Haitian returnees.

Although concerns linger about serious criminals exacerbating the crime situation in the region once they are sent back home, deportations figures from the Department of Homeland Security for 2005, show that of all the aliens deported for criminal activity, the percentage sent back to their homelands for violent crimes is very low.

In 2005, 50 percent of them were convicted for drug and immigration offences. Of those with drug convictions, 37 percent of the total criminal deportees, approximately half were convicted of possession, not sales.

Murder did not make the top 10 list of offences committed by those deported for criminal activity in 2005.