Rachel Knowles The Nassau Guardian
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has raised concern over “pronounced” risks of gender-based violence (GBV) in shelters housing Hurricane Dorian victims on New Providence.
It said the shelters were not established to Sphere standards, the most commonly used set of humanitarian standards.
“Risks are particularly pronounced in the main collective shelter in Nassau, Kendall Isaacs Gym, where, notably, people are sleeping in an open space,” the IFRC said in the second revision of its Emergency Plan of Action in response to Hurricane Dorian.
“There is no space for separate households, there is overcrowding, lack of privacy and there is no separation of males from females with women and girls sleeping in the same space as strangers. There are concerns over the ability of women and girls to safely access toilets and bathing facilities, particularly during the night, and of residents being locked in during the night, creating the potential for a number of risks to the safety and dignity.
“There is a single health desk, however this is located in the open, very close to the main in the sleeping area. This means that there is no privacy for
“The Bahamas government does not require child protection checks for volunteers operating in The Bahamas. This increases the risk to affected children who have regular interaction with multiple organizations during times of disaster.”
The report noted that gender-based violence was already a significant issue in the country prior to Dorian.
“Studies have shown that the risk of gender-based violence is increased following disasters,” it said.
“The true extent of violence against women in the Bahamas prior to Hurricane Dorian is unclear. There are inconsistent data standards and under reporting of GBV and child protection matters is common.
“According to the UN’s Special Rapporteur on violence against women, gender-based violence is ‘hidden, denied and accepted as normal’ in The Bahamas. The National Task Force for Gender-Based Violence noted in 2015 that three of the top ten recorded rape rates in the world occur in the Caribbean. This is led by The Bahamas.”
The government is currently in the process of erecting a Family Relief Centre in the form of a “dome city” on Abaco to house people left homeless due to the storm. The report, however, noted that the Family Relief Centre may also not be up to standard to adequately protect against gender-based violence.
“It is unclear whether this relief site will be built to Sphere standards,” the report read.
The IFRC said migrant women are at a heightened risk for gender-based violence.
“As noted by UN’s special rapporteur on violence against women, ‘Many migrant women and women of Haitian descent live in poor and densely populated shantytowns, where they are confronted with an array of challenges, including discrimination on the grounds of gender and ethnic origin,’” it read.
“‘In addition to the discrimination they face, many do not have identity documents and national passports, which hampers their ability to obtain a job or a house. Their low socioeconomic status and social exclusion exposes them to multiple and intersecting forms of violence, including domestic violence. It is likely that migrant women who are victims of gender-based violence decline to call the police for assistance, for fear of possible deportation.’”
The report also highlighted protection risks among undocumented Haitian migrants. Fear of deportation, it stated, is hindering access to aid and essential services. The report noted that many undocumented migrants are not staying in shelters, and have sought shelter in shantytowns on New Providence.
According to an official from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 228 Haitians have been deported since October 19. The number, however, seems to have not included the 112 Haitians who were repatriated earlier this week. It is unclear exactly how many of those were Dorian survivors. However, the IOM said they were “mostly from Dorian-affected areas”.
“Concerning [the] situation of undocumented Haitian migrants, increasing number in detention and deports [is] creating stress and fear within the communities,” the report read.
“Many are hiding and hence not accessing humanitarian aid, and essential services, including health services. This is creating other protection risks that may be precipitated by negative coping mechanisms.”
The report added, “Many irregular migrants are feared dead because they may have stayed behind to ride out the storm in their unsafe squatter settlements due to their mistrust of government-run shelters. An entire community of people who already had a contentious history with The Bahamian government is now homeless and, in some cases, face an increasing fear of deportation.
“The number of undocumented Haitians displaced in government shelters is low; the assumption is that those who have made it to Nassau are living in informal settlements and are fearful of accessing much-needed services. Many Haitians have reported no safety net of relatives, as they also lived in the informal settlements obliterated by the storm.”
In recent weeks, the government has faced international backlash after announcing its intention to enforce immigration laws and deport undocumented migrants, even those impacted by Hurricane Dorian in early September.
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, the government announced that the repatriation of storm victims, who are undocumented migrants, was on hold.
Several human rights groups have accused the government of “targeting” Haitians with their policies and sending them to a country with civil unrest.