- Marco Bello/Reuters
- More than 100 refugees trying to escape the devastation Hurricane Dorian wrought on the Bahamas were refused a ride on a rescue ferry because they didn’t have a US visa.
- US Customs and Border Protection blamed the ferry operator for the move, which apparently went against their policy that has so far allowed hundreds of Bahamians to reach Florida, regardless of their US visa status.
- Rescue and relief efforts are ongoing after at least 44 people have been reported dead since the hurricane struck the Bahamas last weekend and 70,000 were left homeless.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
More than 100 people trying to escape the devastation Hurricane Dorian wrought on the Bahamas were turned away from a rescue ferry Sunday night.
The incident was caught on a video posted by Brian Entin, a reporter for Miami TV station WSVN. A ferry crew member can be heard announcing that “all passengers that don’t have a US visa, please proceed to disembark.”
The passengers had apparently been told they could travel to Fort Lauderdale with their Bahamian passport and a copy of their criminal record in place of a US visa. The policy has so far allowed at least 1,550 Bahamians to travel to Florida by way of missions by companies like Bahamas Paradise Cruise Lines.
“At the last minute like this, it’s kind of disappointing,” Renard Oliver, who held his infant daughter, told Entin. “It’s hurtful because I’m watching my daughter cry, but it is what it is.”
That’s it. We’re leaving — all Bahamian evacuees without a visa taken off. The Bahamians who remain are in shock. No one understands why the rule was changed at the last minute. The parents and kids now stuck on the island. pic.twitter.com/Jvd3D6MTZW
— Brian Entin (@BrianEntin) September 9, 2019
The incident comes after at least 44 people have been reported dead since the hurricane struck the Bahamas last weekend. Another 70,000 people were left homeless after the storm devastated the country’s Abaco and Grand Bahama islands.
US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) blamed the ferry operator, Balearia Caribbean, for making the decision without contacting government officials. Balearia Caribbean did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment.
A CBP official in Florida told WSVN after the incident that it was a “business decision” by Balearia to remove the refugees and the agency “would have processed them” if they made it to Florida.
“If those folks did stay on the boat and arrived, we would have processed them, vetted them and worked within our laws and protocols and done what we had to do to facilitate them,” a CBP spokesman said. “They were not ordered off the boat by any U.S. government entity.”
Just interviewed @CBPFlorida when we got off ferry in FL. They say they would have accepted and processed the Bahamians, and blame the ferry company Balearia. CBP says they tried to coordinate with Balearia but company "made a business decision" to take the evacuees off the boat. pic.twitter.com/ONkgdcJvS3
— Brian Entin (@BrianEntin) September 9, 2019
Concerns over possible immigration obstacles facing Bahamians trying to reach the US were first surfaced in the days following the storm’s devastation across multiple islands as companies like Bahamas Paradise Cruise Lines announced plans to support voyages to bring Bahamian refugees to nearby Florida.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in Florida, including Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, openly appealed to President Donald Trump to allow in refugees with relatives in the United States.
Florida state Rep. Shevrin Jones told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel two days before the Grand Celebration Humanitarian Cruise ship set sail for Florida with 1,550 Bahamians that he was concerned in the aftermath of the storm that “there is no way that all those individuals can have those materials” deemed necessary to prove entry to the US.
“We should not make those documents the deal breaker on whether you can come stay with your family or not,” Jones told the Sun-Sentinel.
A CBP official told Insider in a statement Monday that the Grand Celebration’s successful voyage is a prime example of a transportation solution for the refugees that was cleared in advance with officials in both nations.
“CBP relies on the transportation companies in both the air and sea environments to be engaged in ensuring the safety and well-being of any individuals that have been devastated by this tragedy and that requires transparent communication and planning for adequate resources to receive any arrivals,” the statement read.