More than 130 people affected by Hurricane Dorian could not travel to the US from the Bahamas because “they did not have visas.”
Desperate refugees from the Bahamas boarded a boat bound for Florida on Sunday, hoping to escape the devastation of Hurricane Dorian.
However, the crew ordered at least 130 people off the ship at the last minute. They insisted that they needed to have visas to enter the US.
Bahamians do not need visas to enter the United States, as long as they arrive by air and have a passport and a clean police record. Recently, the government extended the policy to include boat travel as well. This change has facilitated the rescue of thousands of refugees affected by the storm.
No visas, no passage
Shortly before leaving, crew members of the boat company, Balearia, announced that anyone without a visa would have to disembark. “They originally said you can come with a police record and without a visa and now they’re taking that back,” one woman onboard told Miami’s WSVN 7 News. “That’s really ridiculous. That’s awful.”
The crew ordered one man, Renard Oliver, off the ferry despite the fact that he was traveling with his young daughters, one just a baby. “I have to take my baby off,” he said. “At the last minute like this, it’s kind of disappointing. It’s hurtful watching my daughters cry.”
Balearia Caribbean decided to remove the refugees from the boat despite the fact that the US Customs and Border Protection would have allowed them to enter the US.
“It’s important to note,” an official informed WSVN 7 News, “if those folks had stayed on the boat and arrived, we would have processed them, vetted them and worked without our laws and protocols and done what we had to do to facilitate them. I think it was a business decision by Balearia to remove them. They were not ordered off the boat by any US government agency.”
Many other ships carrying Bahamian citizens had already landed in the US, including once with 1,000 people on board on Friday. A boat with 1,500 people arrived Saturday.
Whose fault was it?
Days after the incident occurred, acting CBP commissioner Mark Morgan stated at a news conference that the government’s policy concerning Bahamian refugees had not changed.
“This is a humanitarian mission,” he said. “If your life is in jeopardy and you’re in the Bahamas … you’re going to be allowed to come to the United States, whether you have travel documents or not.”
But, he added, “we still need to vet you to make sure we’re not letting dangerous people in.”
President Trump insisted that the government must be “very careful” when allowing Bahamian refugees to enter. “I don’t want to allow people that weren’t supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States — including some very bad people and very bad gang members,” he said.
Balearia Caribbean has since released a statement apologizing for the incident. However, they added,”We boarded these passengers with the understanding that they could travel to the United States without visas, only to later having been advised that in order to travel to Ft. Lauderdale they required prior in-person authorization from the immigration authorities in Nassau.”
Main image: Hurricane Dorian refugees ordered off the Balearia Caribbean ferry headed for Florida. (Photo: Saul Martinez/Getty Images)