Do­rian’s af­ter­math

Pas­sen­gers with­out visas told to exit; U.S. blames com­pany

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - Front Page - KATIE SHEP­HERD

Res­cuers from Gainesvill­e, Fla., search for bod­ies Mon­day in the wreck­age left by Hur­ri­cane Do­rian in the Marsh Har­bor area of the Ba­hamas’ Abaco Is­lands. The U.S. on Mon­day blamed a ferry op­er­a­tor for an in­ci­dent in which more than 100 refugees who sur­vived the hur­ri­cane were forced to dis­em­bark from a ves­sel in Freeport, Ba­hamas, be­cause they didn’t have visas to en­ter the U.S.

Hun­dreds of Hur­ri­cane Do­rian sur­vivors crowded into a ferry an­chored in Freeport, Ba­hamas, on Sun­day evening af­ter days on the swel­ter­ing is­lands with limited food, wa­ter and power. Just 2½ hours across the ocean, safety and re­lief waited in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Then, an an­nounce­ment blared from the boat’s in­ter­com speak­ers.

“Please, all pas­sen­gers that don’t have a U.S. visa, please pro­ceed to dis­em­bark,” a crew mem­ber said in a video cap­tured on board.

Since Do­rian dev­as­tated the is­lands ear­lier this month, killing at least 44 peo­ple, hun­dreds of Ba­hamian refugees have re­port­edly come to the United States af­ter go­ing through a screen­ing process with only a pass­port and proof of no crim­i­nal record. The more than 100 refugees forced to dis­em­bark Sun­day night were baf­fled about why they were turned away.

“At the last minute like this, it’s kind of dis­ap­point­ing,” Re­nard Oliver, who held his in­fant daugh­ter, told Brian Entin, a re­porter for Mi­ami TV sta­tion WSVN. “It’s hurt­ful be­cause I’m watch­ing my daugh­ter cry, but it is what it is.”

U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion, how­ever, says no rules have changed and laid the blame on the ferry op­er­a­tor, iden­ti­fied by lo­cal re­porters as Balearia Caribbean, for not prop­erly co­or­di­nat­ing with govern­ment of­fi­cials. Balearia Caribbean did not im­me­di­ately re­turn a re­quest for com­ment.

“CBP was no­ti­fied of a ves­sel pre­par­ing to em­bark an un­known num­ber of pas­sen­gers in Freeport and re­quested that the op­er­a­tor of the ves­sel co­or­di­nate with U.S. and Ba­hamian govern­ment of­fi­cials in Nassau be­fore de­part­ing The Ba­hamas,” the agency said in a state­ment shared with The Wash­ing­ton Post late Sun­day.

An agency of­fi­cial in Florida told WSVN that it was a “busi­ness de­ci­sion” by Balearia to re­move the refugees with­out visas.

“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 Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion spokesman said. “They were not or­dered off the boat by any U.S. govern­ment en­tity.”

At a news con­fer­ence Mon­day, act­ing U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion Com­mis­sioner Mark Mor­gan said there was “con­fu­sion” around the is­sue, but that the agency’s pol­icy hadn’t changed: Peo­ple flee­ing the hur­ri­cane zone are welcome in the United States.

“This is a hu­man­i­tar­ian mis­sion,” Mor­gan said. “If your life is in jeop­ardy and you’re in the Ba­hamas … you’re go­ing to be al­lowed to come to the United States, whether you have travel doc­u­ments or not.”

But, he added: “We’re still go­ing to go through the process… . We still need to vet you to make sure we’re not let­ting dan­ger­ous peo­ple in.”

On Saturday, nearly 1,500 refugees trav­eled to the United States on another cruise ship, re­port­edly with­out re­quir­ing visas. Entin re­ported that crew mem­bers on the Sun­day ferry were told that the same rules were in ef­fect be­fore be­ing re­buffed by the U.S. bor­der agency.

The refugees’ plight comes af­ter bi­par­ti­san calls to waive all visa re­quire­ments for Ba­hamas sur­vivors. On Wed­nes­day, Repub­li­can Sens. Marco Ru­bio and Rick Scott, both of Florida, wrote an open let­ter to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump urg­ing him to al­low in refugees with rel­a­tives in the United States. Eigh­teen other Florida law­mak­ers made a sim­i­lar ap­peal.

On Mon­day, shortly be­fore Mor­gan’s news con­fer­ence, Scott urged Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion of­fi­cials and the Ba­hamian govern­ment to clar­ify the cur­rent visa rules. He also en­cour­aged the agency “to work with the Ba­hamian govern­ment to set up a tem­po­rary site at their ports of en­try. Pro­fes­sion­als should be on site to help the many Ba­hami­ans try­ing to leave de­struc­tion.”

On the same day, Trump told re­porters that we “have to be very care­ful” in let­ting peo­ple from the Ba­hamas into the U.S., adding that “ev­ery­body needs to­tally proper doc­u­men­ta­tion.” The Ba­hamas has “some very bad peo­ple,” he said.

Thou­sands have fled the is­lands af­ter Do­rian tore away roofs, flooded en­tire neigh­bor­hoods and left tens of thou­sands of peo­ple home­less. Most have gone to Florida, which has close his­tor­i­cal ties to the Ba­hamas.

But many sur­vivors seek­ing respite in Freeport on Sun­day did not find it. Hun­dreds strug­gled to buy tick­ets on fer­ries and flights. Even­tu­ally, work­ers at the Freeport Har­bour locked the ter­mi­nal doors af­ter all of the seats on the Sun­day evening ferry had been sold. Many peo­ple con­tin­ued to wait out­side. Their homes had been flooded, power cut off, wa­ter con­tam­i­nated. The boat to Fort Lauderdale promised to carry them to fam­ily mem­bers and friends wait­ing to pro­vide sup­port.

“This is ter­ri­ble,” one woman who stayed on the ferry told WSVN as the ferry left the har­bor.

AP/FER­NANDO LLANO

AP/GON­ZALO GAUDENZI

Mem­bers of a res­cue team work Mon­day in the Marsh Har­bor area of the Ba­hamas’ Abaco Is­lands, which was hit hard by Hur­ri­cane Do­rian.

AP/EVAN VUCCI

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump par­tic­i­pates in a Hur­ri­cane Do­rian brief­ing Mon­day aboard Air Force One at Marine Corps Air Sta­tion Cherry Point in Have­lock, N.C. Among those join­ing the pres­i­dent were North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (left) and House Mi­nor­ity Leader Kevin McCarthy (stand­ing cen­ter).

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