A delegation from the World Council of Churches (WCC) including representatives from Malaysia and Jordan as well as the Director of the WCC’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) visited The Bahamas from 13-17 November 2018 to consult with church leaders, to participate in a workshop coordinated by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The delegation also met with senior government officials on issues of gender discrimination and statelessness, namely Hon. Brent Symonette, Minister of Financial Services, Trade & Industry & Immigration, and Senator The Hon. Carl Bethel, QC, Attorney General of The Bahamas.
The delegation met with people rendered stateless or at risk of statelessness, particularly as a result of gender discrimination in the Constitution and nationality law of the Bahamas, to hear first-hand their stories and to visit the wounds of those whose lives have been up-ended by injustice and discrimination. Among others, the delegation also met with representatives of the League of Haitian Pastors in The Bahamas.
The prevention of statelessness amongst children born in The Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents was a key concern for the delegation. An undetermined number of persons of Haitian descent born in The Bahamas are thought to be stateless as they are unable to acquire either Bahamian or Haitian nationality due to legal and administrative barriers.
Discussions with affected groups and government officials provided opportunities to identify similarities with the Jordanian and Malaysian contexts where statelessness and gender discrimination in nationality laws are also challenges.
According to Bishop Laish Boyd of the Anglican Church in the Bahamas, “Church leaders and both major political parties concur that it would be desirable to eliminate gender discrimination in the constitutional provisions regarding capacity to transmit nationality.”
However, in light of two failed referenda on this point within the last 10 years, another referendum to amend the Constitution in order to ensure gender equality with regard to the capacity to transmit nationality is unlikely in the foreseeable future.
“Nevertheless, changes in the Nationality Law and in immigration policy and practice can be envisaged to improve the situation of affected people”, said Rev. Kelli Jolly of the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas.
Bishop Boyd added, 'We applaud the Government for efforts made and for all that has been accomplished. We will work with the government to promote procedural improvements to shorten the time taken to process citizenship applications, and to ensure an officially recognized interim status for children and for adults pending determination of their citizenship status.”