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Shock and Confusion After Bahamas Evacuees Forced Off Ferry Headed to Florida

The future is uncertain for 70,000 people in the Bahamas left homeless by Hurricane Dorian.



(TMU) — In a truly gut-wrenching scene, Bahamians attempting to flee the hurricane ravaged islands were kicked off of a ferry en route to Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Sunday evening.

The scene played out on social media as Brian Entin, investigative reporter for 7 News in Miami, shared video of the chaos as it unfolded, shortly after Bahamians attempting to leave the island of Grand Bahama boarded the ferry having just spent hours waiting in line.

Historically, visas are not required for Bahamians traveling to the United States if they qualify for the Visa Waiver Program and apply at the airport in Freeport or Nassau. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), “Based on a bilateral agreement, in certain circumstances, many Bahamians and citizens of the British overseas territory of the Turks and Caicos Islands do not require a visa.” 

The obvious problem is that these Bahamians are attempting to travel after a massive natural disaster that destroyed the Freeport Airport and has made traveling from island to island extremely difficult and, according to Angus Johnston, City University of New York professor, the program had been expanded to ferries in light of Dorian.

Announcements like the one below echoed through the ferry causing confusion.

According to Entin, passengers “were told before boarding it was ok with Bahamian passport and clean polce [sic] record. Something has now changed.”

Discussion between Entin and passengers appear to show that it was fairly commonplace for Bahamians to travel to the U.S. without a visa.

According to Hannah Morse, a reporter with the Palm Beach Post, the Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line “spent nearly a full day” working with CPB to pre-clear evacuees.

The cruise ship Grand Celebration successfully evacuated upwards of 1500 Bahamians on Friday without requiring visas.

Before the chaos unfolded on board the ferry, CBP Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan tweeted that “no visa document requirements have changed.”

According to a tweet posted on Wednesday by Florida Senator Marco Rubio, he, along with Senator Rick Scott, planned to send President Donald Trump a letter asking the administration to waive visa requirements for Bahamians with close relatives in the U.S. displaced by Dorian.

The letter reads:

“As Americans, and others throughout our hemisphere and across the globe, work to provide aid and assistance for the many needs of the Bahamian people at this time, perhaps one of the most basic yet meaningful steps our government can take immediately is to ensure that those who have lost everything, including family members in some instances, are provided the opportunity for shelter and reunification with family in the United States.

Florida enjoys historically deep ties with the Bahamas and, by proximity, many Floridians have family in the Bahamas. While parts of the Bahamas endured sustained winds of 180 miles for almost two days, Florida watched and prepared for Dorian’s landfall. Although Florida’s east coast continues to experience high winds and storm surges, our state is fortunate to avoid a direct hit. Floridians are now eager to help their family and friends in the Bahamas.”

Only hours before the confusing situation unfolded onboard the ferry, Entin shared footage from the Freeport Harbour terminal where those who had managed to secure ferry tickets were locked inside the building.

Outside the terminal, crowds gathered to find a padlocked door and no information. According to Entin, the process lacked organization with no one going “outside giving anyone information. No police or port workers. People have to push to the door to yell to the man guarding it and shout their questions.”

Entin shared one more video as the ferry disembarked Freeport, leaving weary Bahamians—who were likely heaving a collective sigh of relief only moments before—back at square one with little hope and information from local officials.

As Entin’s videos spread across social media Sunday night, Twitter users expressed their shock and outrage.

Meanwhile, despite the plethora of evidence that Bahamians are in a state of emergency and are now unable to easily enter the United States, U.S. officials are concerned about “the national security implications if China steps in” to fill the “vast needs” of a country only 50 miles off the coast of Florida.

Let’s hope it isn’t as bad as it looks and the U.S. is not, in fact, more concerned “about the potential for such a powerful economic and political adversary to gain a greater foothold in such proximity” than it is about the plight of the Bahamians that barely lived through one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in recorded history.


The future is uncertain for 70,000 people in the Bahamas left homeless by Hurricane Dorian.

By Emma Fiala | Creative Commons |

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