NASSAU, Bahamas — Quetelie Decius doesn’t feel welcome in Nassau where she disembarked from a mailboat that delivered her from the living hell of Marsh Harbour after dark on Saturday with no destination.
Nor does she feel safe, or secure, in the high-crime city with her three children, ages 5, 8 and 12.
“I don’t feel good. I don’t feel comfortable,” Decius said, a broken, faraway look in her eye, total exhaustion on her face.
Her daughter and two sons look at her, wondering what they’re going to do, where they’re going to go, she said. “It’s killing me.”
Decius is Haitian.
Haitians in the Bahamas are scorned and associated with illegal status, poverty, lack of education and violence. Since Hurricane Dorian, social media fueled the fires of prejudice and bias. Posts denigrating Haitians and blaming them for looting and violence have been a frequent theme.
Although people have been migrating to the Bahamas from Haiti for hundreds of years, they are a disdained population. They are the country’s largest migrant group and make up 20% of the population in some areas.
“In common with migrant groups elsewhere, a stigma has become attached to being a Haitian migrant in The Bahamas,” said an article in The College of The Bahamas Research Journal entitled The Stigma of Being Haitian in The Bahamas.
For Dorian evacuees of Haitian descent, there are fewer options, fewer welcomes, fewer people to turn to when they arrive as refugees in Nassau, said Jocelyn Arty, of the United Haitian Association in The Bahamas.
Where are the jitneys, buses, and welcoming faces, offers of water, gestures of kindness that greet the boats transporting Haitian evacuees Pastor Michael Telairin wants to know?
“When the Haitians come in there’s nobody in place, no shelter, no water, no transportation,” Telairin said.
And once the Haitian evacuees get here with nothing, Arty said, their only desire is to reunite with family members they’ve been separated from or who rode different boats over. So, they’re reluctant to leave the dock, or they go and come back, in the hopes that a loved one will be on the next boat.
That’s what Decius and her kids did. They returned Sunday morning with the hope that they would reconnect with relatives. Women and children were sent first.
Melinda Johnson, 21, doesn’t want to leave the dock. Her mother, father and six sisters are with her.
One of her sisters, Jacquilene Edmond, 42, wept. Tears glistened as they made a slow slide down her cheeks.
“Mommy, why are you crying?” her 5-year-old daughter asked, looking up at her mom with concern. Her thumb pops back into her mouth.
Nassau doesn’t feel like the place to be, Edmond says.
“No, it’s not secure,” she said. “There’s too much crime. And right now, they’re bringing more people and it’s going to be more dangerous.”
And as they wait, one of the miracles they’ve been hoping for comes true.
Five-year-old little Chedler Joseph run into his father’s open embrace.
Chenet Joseph scoops his boy into his arms, his face contorts with emotion. A whimper escapes his mouth. Tears fill his eyes.
In the same moment, shouting begins a few feet away.
“I represent the government! Don’t you come here and paint this bad picture,” a voice thunders in a berating tone as an angry man shakes a finger at the 15 or so Haitians gathered under a tarp. “That’s wrong … don’t do that, because we have a place for everyone of you all. I’m very upset.”
This is Hank Johnson, he says he’s a member of parliament and heads the committee responsible for organizing transport from the storm-battered islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama to Nassau.
“They were treated like royalty on the boat yesterday,” he says, nostrils flaring, upper lip quivering.
“What they’re saying is not the truth,” Johnson says. “There’s no division here, as if one group is being treated better than others, that’s not so, that is not so.”
“It’s so wrong,” he chastises one more time.
And out of the blue the Haitian ambassador to the Bahamas, Dorval Dalier, shows up in black jeans and flip-flops.
He steps aside to speak with Hank Johnson.
“That’s the way it is, that’s the way it is,” Pastor Telairin says. “If we didn’t come here, he would have treated them all like dogs. That’s what would have happened.”
When Dalier returns, he’s in agreement with Hank Johnson.
“Don’t stay here. Move. Let’s go,” Dalier barks. “We have to find a shelter for you. I don’t want no one to stay here.”
When Dalier comes back, he brings a bucket of KFC and a liter of Pepsi.
“I don’t want no trouble,” he says. “Even though there’s irregularities, I want things to go smoothly.”
Dalier next returns with a shiny black Toyota SUV and gathers the Johnson family up and drives them away.
“We make it our business to be here, because what you don’t want is a boatload of persons getting off and there’s nobody to say ‘hi, you’re safe, you’re OK,’” Arty, of UHAB, says. “We’re here to offer guidance and translations.”
Pastor Telairin acknowledges the tension that just flared.
“Definitely, there’s a lot of tension,” he says. “We just want everybody treated the same.”
“We all have similar needs — food, water and shelter.”