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REMARKS BY FRED MITCHELL AT HONORARY CONSULAR CORPS ANNUAL CHRISTMAS LUNCHEON

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sildenafil physician times;”>REMARKS BY
 
THE HON. FREDERICK A. MITCHELL, MP
MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND IMMIGRATION
 
AT THE
 
HONORARY CONSULAR CORPS
ANNUAL CHRISTMAS LUNCHEON 2015
 
 
Sapodilla’s
 
Tuesday, 15th December, 2015
Nassau, The Bahamas
 
HONORARY CONSULAR CORPS
ANNUAL CHRISTMAS LUNCHEON 2015
 
Excellencies
Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
It is an honour to be here this year. I thank you all for inviting me.
 
On Foreign Affairs
 
2015 proved to be quite  a year. The Ministry has consolidated some gains over the years:
·    bringing nearly three (3) decades of arduous negotiations to an end with the enactment of the Foreign Service Regulations in December of last year, and bringing the operationalisation phase to the fore through the institutionalisation of the Foreign Service Operations Division (FSOD) in April of this year. Its primary functions include interpretation and oversight of the implementation of the legislation’s provisions, facilitation of the establishment of the Ministry’s Foreign Service career path and concordant salary scales, as well as knowledge management and training;
·    the continued development of personal talents and capacities; and
·    placing the staff in service situations to expand the outreach of the country and the function of the Ministry, through:
 
·    firming up of diplomatic relations and diplomatic week (new diplomatic envoys named to represent The Bahamas – Japan, India, Mexico, China, and at-large; new honorary consuls in Malta, California …; additionally, the Cabinet approved the establishment of twenty new diplomatic relations, which are being finalised through our respective Missions Overseas);
·    solidarity with and commemorating excellent relations with foreign governments (and their people) and international organisations: (examples include) the Prime Minister’s official visit to China, also associated with the 1st CELAC-China Ministerial Forum (January); the 35th Anniversary of the Festival del Caribe (Fiesta de Fuego) in Santiago, Cuba, which commemorated the 500th Anniversary of the City of Santiago, and at which The Bahamas was the feature country (July); the amendment of Anti-Terrorism Act of The Bahamas (September); the celebration in October of the 30th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations with Korea (actually in July) (I would like to put on notice the Ambassadors of China and Haiti that the 20th and 40thAnniversaries of the establishment of diplomatic relations are coming up in 2017 and The Bahamas expects major celebrations for these milestones); the 30th Anniversary of Nassau Accord (October); the election in November of The Bahamas to the one-year Vice-Chairmanship of the OAS’s Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) for 2016, which will lead to our Chairmanship for one year in 2017; and
·    using the 70th Anniversary of the United Nations as a backdrop for pronouncements on, and involvement in, matters critical for The Bahamas: climate change (added impact of sea-level rise for The Bahamas)sustainable development goals, and technical assistance.
·    Recently we were much involved in the work of the Commonwealth Heads of Government and successfully charted the election of Baroness Patricia Scotland as Secretary General of the Commonwealth, in addition to ensuring a strong statement on climate change.
·    There was of course the work at developing with the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Environment our presentations and representations on climate change at Paris.
 
In 2016, The Bahamas will serve as Co-ordinator for the Group of Latin America and the Caribbean States (GRULAC) on matters pertaining to World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), and later in the year, as GRULAC Co-ordinator for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Efforts to advance the WTO accession process in the Third meeting of the Working Party are also anticipated.
 
On Diplomatic Week 2015
As you know, Diplomatic Week is an annual occurrence on The Bahamas’ diplomatic calendar. It presents an opportunity for the country to strengthen bilateral ties and further the social, cultural and economic exchanges between The Bahamas and accredited States and International and Regional Organisations with resident and non-resident representation. Diplomatic Week also presents an opportunity for public education and exchange on the role of diplomacy, the Foreign Service and the variety and importance of the services offered by the Ministry; beyond those of the Ministry’s passport and consular departments. This year, our second edition, we witnessed an increase in non-resident participants, including the majority of The Bahamas’ contingent of Honorary Consuls, enabling fruitful exchanges on topics such as the relief efforts following the devastation wrought by Category 4 Hurricane Joaquin in the Southeast, the National Development Plan, the ongoing transition to university status of the College of The Bahamas, youth development and employment and developments within The Bahamas’ Financial Services sector.
 
The opportunity to convene this gathering of the full Diplomatic Corps of The Bahamas in The Bahamas, under one roof, so to speak, is yielding tremendous benefits.
 
Vote of Thanks/Other Matters
 
I want to thank Philip Miller for his three-year service at the helm of the Ministry, and bid welcome to Ambassador Sheila Carey, who returned from China to resume her charge of the Ministry’s administrative and technical work, and continue the transition process to the fulfilment of the Foreign Service Orders, all of this without fanfare or glory required.
 
I also want to welcome Ambassador at Large Stan Smith who is leading a new Public Affairs Unit along with Anthony Williams of the Department of Immigration to deal with the ever evolving and complex matters of interface with the public and our human rights issues.
 
 
I would like to announce that the Ministry expects to welcome Ambassador Sharon Brenan Haylock as the technical head of the Department of Foreign Affairs: the Director-General – a post provided for in the Regulations. This would allow even more focused attention on each of the two sides of the Ministry – administrative and technical – by their two managers (the PS and the DG, respectively).
 
I want also to welcome Superintendent Clarence Russell who is now the Chief Passport Officer and has done a yeoman’s job in  a few short months in terms of cutting down the backlog of passport applications, developing more consumer sensitivity and I hope customer friendliness.
 
In that connection, you know that during the past year the government announced an 18 million dollar commitment to new border management control systems, signing on to the advanced passenger information system and the introduction of new and updated passports and passport and border procedures.  I hope this time next year Canadian Bank Note , the vendors will have us more digitized and on line with all services.  This should affect the hopeless backlog of applications for work permits permanent residence citizenship and residency permits. 
 
On Migration/Immigration
Allow me to turn to the matter of migration.
 
It is clear that the question of migration has, of necessity, become a priority for various Governments around the world. As a result, in many quarters, migration has been dubbed one of the defining issues of the year. The migration crisis in Europe brings sharply into focus the challenge that rising migration flows can have on countries large and small alike. The challenge is significant, irrespective of level of development. Given the reality of irregular migration for The Bahamas, we must find a way to effectively balance supply of migration flows with demands for labour within safe, legal, humane and orderly structures. This would serve to maximise the human development potential offered by labour mobility and, even more importantly, to save lives being risked on perilous journeys at sea. We know that dialogue among countries of origin, transit and destination is critical to the success of managing this process. No country can face the challenge alone. I took the opportunity to emphasise this very point when I addressed the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) meeting in October.
 
With a view to enhancing such dialogue and co-operation, and to building on the efforts already underway to further strengthen relations between The Bahamas and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), I also met with the Director-General of the IOM this year, while in Geneva. The Bahamas expressed its willingness, to both the Director-General and officials from the IOM and the UNHCR, who visited The Bahamas in June, to play a leading role in the development of a Regional Consultative Process for the Caribbean on Migration, within the framework of the IOM.
 
On Bahamas Immigration
On the subject of immigration, the Department of Immigration (DOI) informed me that the apprehension, detention, and repatriation of illegal migrants continue to be costly ventures for the Government of The Bahamas. During the years 2011 to 2014, the Government of The Bahamas has repatriated fourteen thousand nine hundred nineteen illegal migrants, (14,919) at a cost of four million nine hundred forty-eight dollars and ninety-six cents ($4,948,876.96). This amount only reflects the cost of airline seats associated with the repatriations, but does not take into account officer’s overtime, the cost of housing them at the Detention Centre, and other man-hours that may be further required, for example, to provide medical and other services. This annual expenditure by The Bahamas Government is burdensome, but can be deemed a necessary evil, because the endeavour cannot cease to be undertaken at this time.
 
The vast majority of illegal immigrants are from Haiti. However, it is noteworthy to state that there are small pockets of Brazilians, Dominicans, and Cuban Nationals who constitute this number of Illegal migrants. All of these nationalities, with the exception of the Cubans, enter the country under the guise of being legitimate visitors.
 
There has been a slight decline in the number of Haitian boat landings, and DOI attributes this to recent purchase and deployment of a fleet of new vessels by the Royal Bahamas Defence Force.
 
The attempted smuggling of persons from the Islands of The Bahamas to the United States of America continues to be a source of concern. The numbers have remained steady, but the detection rate has kept them from increasing. While it remains vigilant in this area, the DOI does not doubt that smugglers will continue to refine their art. At this point, the DOI highlights the role of members of the public in assisting with information regarding the location of alleged illegal migrants.
 
Another concern is the issue of trafficking in persons. The very nature of this nefarious deed and, indeed, the unwillingness of its victims to notify authorities of their plight make this a difficult crime to detect. The DOI has no doubt that individuals are exploited. It is hard-pressed to make significant inroads with respect to prosecuting persons for this crime. It recognises that, as long as there are individuals who are desirous of seeking to improve their economic condition by any means necessary, there will be persons waiting to exploit them. The DOI gets reports from individuals who complain of having to work under less-than-desirable circumstances but, because of the circumstances in their own country, have suffered in the name of trying to make a living for themselves while also providing for their families back home. To this end, a Trafficking in Persons Task Force (TIPS) and a Trafficking in Persons Committee have been formed. In 2012, the Government of The Bahamas enacted the “Trafficking in Persons Act.” This act effectively made it a crime to traffic persons. Together, these two units are effective in the prevention, suppression, and prosecution of trafficking in persons. However, the ultimate goal is the protection of victims of trafficking.
 
During the past year, the United States government advanced The Bahamas to tier one status in the TIPS legislation of their country.  This was a significant fillip which gave us the resolve to advance our name at the last minute for a seat on the Human Rights Council.  Alas while not successful, we won the support of some 113 countries.  It heightened the country’s profile and gave significant experience to our young diplomatic team. 
 
As you know illegal migrants resident in the country utilise public facilities, which, in and of itself, is not detrimental to the functioning of these facilities. However, as these facilities are supported by tax payers, this creates an undue cost on public finances.
 
There is of course legal migration to The Bahamas.  This is an easy country to migrate to lawfully.  The legal migrant populations makes positive contributions to the country on the whole, and to the well-being of Bahamians specifically. At both ends of the spectrum, there is evidence of positive contributions. There are persons at the lower end of the economic scale who contribute to areas of work that Bahamians may not readily apply themselves. As these persons live, work and participate in various areas of public life, they pay rent, buy groceries, and pay for the use of public facilities, which adds to the continued economic existence of The Bahamas. At the higher end of the economic scale, there are migrants who bring new skills and also train Bahamians in certain existing and new areas. The net effect is that The Bahamas, as a country, improves in the skill-set of its workforce.
 
I am now studying a judgment recently issued in Freeport on a challenge to the authority of immigration.  I await formal advice.  However, my preliminary view is that   in the face of such a wide ranging judgment (with which I respectfully disagree) and if it applies  beyond the instant case, we are forced to consider our options  where the country and the public interest demands the immediate  removal of someone from the country whose whose continued presence in the country   in the opinion of the Department of Immigration may  be inconsistent with the peace and good order of the country.  You may hear more developing on this policy shortly.  However, the basic premise seems to me must be upheld that the Department of Immigration has in the first instance an unfettered right to determine who islanded and is excluded from The Bahamas, subject to law.
 
On 1st November, 2014, the Government of The Bahamas introduced new policies with respect to persons currently residing in the territory, as well as persons born in The Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents. The principle new policy was accompanied by amendments to the Immigration Act, to introduce new classes of status. This policy is built on two pillars. All persons resident in The Bahamas must have legal status. All persons born in the Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents must be in possession of the passport of their parents’ nationality. The amendment to the Immigration Act introduced “The Resident Belonger Status”. Persons who are in the following categories qualify for The Resident Belonger Permit:
 
(1)   A person born in The Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents who is entitled under the Constitution to apply for registration as a citizen of The Bahamas (Article 7), and who is now living permanently in The Bahamas;
(2)   A person born outside The Bahamas to a Bahamian mother who is married to a non-Bahamian father (Article 9); or
(3)   A person born outside The Bahamas to a Bahamian father who is a citizen of The Bahamas by virtue of Article 3 (2) or 8 and who is married to his non-Bahamian mother.
 
Finally, The Bahamas, like other countries throughout the world, has been impacted by the migrants in our country, both negatively and positively. It is, therefore, important that The Bahamas continuously revisits its laws and policies, so that it not only remains compliant with international best practices, but also guards the Nation’s heritage and sovereignty.
 
In turn, on the subject of migration, the Office of the Attorney-General informed that The Bahamas has established the Migration Working Group, whose functions are to:
 
·    assess the challenges the country faces with mixed migration; asylum seekers, refugees, stateless persons and illegal migrants;
·    examine the Conventions and the Protocols that we are party to that speaks to the Status of Refugees, 1951 and 67 respectively, to ensure the country is fulfilling its obligations;
·    review the UN Conventions of Refugees and Statelessness to determine the obligations and decide whether the country should sign onto them;
·    establish the extent of the issue of “statelessness” within The Bahamas (does it exist, if it does, how it can be rectified)
·    evaluate the 10-Point Plan of Action of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC) with a view of defining our response to adhere its mandate; and
·    participate in regional consultation and co-operation.
 
The Group is presently involved in:
 
·    the Development of a formalised Asylum Procedures – This would be one of the assignments that the Migration Working Group, due to its composition (representing most of the Government Ministries, the Red Cross, the Department of Immigration and the local UNHCR Representative), will lead and provide recommendations to the Government on a formalised Asylum Procedure. One of the steps that are presently being taken to lead in this direction is for the Immigration Department to develop a Standard Operational Procedure Policy.
 
·    the Review of the UNHCR document – The Brazil Plan of Action and how it can be incorporated in policies, regulations and legislation to:
 
·    uphold the highest international and regional protection standard.
·    implement innovative solutions for refugees and other displaced persons.
·    end the plight of stateless persons.
 
On 4th June, 2015, representatives from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the UNCHR made a presentation on the Brazil Plan to the Migration Working Group and the National Reporting Co-operation Mechanism Working Group (NRCM). Its content is an on-going discussion.
 
This Working Group meets once a week and is co-chaired by the Office of The Attorney-General and Ministry of Legal Affairs, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
 
Conclusion
In closing, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would say – and the staff of the Ministry and our Missions Overseas would agree with me – that 2015 has been a very busy and good year for The Bahamas. The business of foreign affairs, per the goals laid out in the Charter of Governance, is getting in a good stride. We counted on your support – particularly with the Bahamian HRC and IMO candidacies and the 2nd edition of Diplomatic Week – and your kind extension of that support to us was welcomed and sincerely appreciated.

On behalf of the Ministry and the Government of The Bahamas, I thank you, the members of the Diplomatic and Honorary Consular Corps, for the invitation to share with you our year’s labour and for your general support in maintaining good relations between The Bahamas and the countries that you represent.
 
May I thank you all.  I wish you a merry Christmas, a joyous holiday season and the best in the New Year.
 
Thank you very much indeed.