Hurricane Dorian struck the Bahamas with incredible force last week, leaving many Bahamians without homes in the natural disaster. Thousands of people have been displaced and, in the search for shelter, are trying to seek refuge in Florida.
In the past, Bahamian refugees fleeing destruction needed only a passport and printout of their police record to travel to the U.S. In a video taken by reporter Brian Entin, however, many Bahamians are seen being forced out of a Baleària Carribean ferry because they don't have a visa.
After the videos went viral, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokesperson Michael Silva issued a statement saying there had been some sort of a misunderstanding with the crew of the ferry.
He claims his office had told the ferry they would have to take the refugees to Nassau to receive proper documentation before proceeding to the U.S. (more than has been necessary in the past), but that the ferry responded by throwing many of its refugees off the boat.
Silva expressed regret to Newsweek at the situation.
"It breaks my heart because it's like when you raise somebody's hopes and then you pop the balloon... That, in my opinion, is what Baleària did. It raised the expectations of these poor people who have been through an unimaginable situation with the hurricane...They raised their expectations only to then leave them terribly disappointed."
Silva has noted that the CPB is prepared to work with any of the many private companies who are working to transport Bahamians away from the destruction, including the 1,200 people aboard a Grand Celebration cruise ship that recently arrived in Palm Beach and were processed without incident.
"We would have definitely worked with this transportation company or any other transportation company to...facilitate this process. CBP is not denying or discouraging evacuation efforts and we empathize with the plight of the Bahamian people."
In the case of this particular ferry, however, Silva noted the Baleària's staff had reached out on very short notice, and were even charging passengers a somewhat exorbitant fee (as opposed to the Grand Celebration, which transported refugees for free).
"I believe they were charging about $150, which is not inexpensive because I think airfare is about the same. It was a for-profit cruise. It wasn't a humanitarian mission."
The CBP is taking as many steps as it can to make clear Bahamians are not being turned away due to lack of visas.
Many on Twitter have responded to the footage with vitriol and outrage.
Some Twitter users noted the forces which have strengthened many recent hurricanes have gone unaddressed by the U.S.
Whether this incident was the fault of the U.S. government or a private company, immediate steps should be taken to ensure it doesn't happen again.
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