Insight: A Family Holiday Which Turned Into A Bahamian Nightmare

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THE CARMICHAEL Road Detention Centre. (File photo)

By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT

tsmith-cartwright@tribunemedia.net

What started out as a vacation in paradise for Rui Hao and his family and friends turned into a total nightmare.

They have just left our shores vowing never to return, a lawsuit lodged against the government and a promise to tell everyone they can never to come here.

Rui Hao, is a native of China, however he lives in Amsterdam where he is a citizen. He and his friends spoke with The Tribune on Thursday to narrate the chain of events that left them shaken and wanting to leave the country and never return.

“We came here on December 20, 2020 for vacation,” said Hao. “We were to stay for 30 days, but after three weeks we were having such a good time, we decided to apply to the Immigration Department for an extension on our stay… We made the application and it was declined with no reason given.”

For Hao and his party this is when things quickly began to deteriorate as, for some reason, they were told they now couldn’t leave the country either.

“We found out that we couldn’t leave. So we went to the Immigration Department for an extension three more times and each time they declined without giving us a reason. So we were stuck here for about five months in Nassau in limbo. We started to get bored and decided to have a trip to Bimini.

“While we were in waters near Bimini some policemen came to us and were extremely rude. We were afraid because they were shouting at us. They said ‘you have legitimate travel documents so we are going to turn you over to immigration so they can decide.’ We didn’t know what to do. We knew that immigration in Nassau didn’t help us so we were hoping immigration in Bimini would. This did not happen!”

Hao and his three family friends were detained for two days by police in Bimini. The friends are also of Chinese descent, but live in Singapore. Hao and two others speak very good English.

“What’s even more shocking is that they told us children could not be imprisoned, but they still locked up the two children as well,” he continued. “They sent us to the Detention Centre in Nassau. Ironically they call it the ‘safe house’, but it was not. When we asked for certain things as simple as a phone call, one female officer asked us if we remembered we were in prison.

“From when we were in Bimini, nobody let us talk. They did the same thing at the Detention Centre. We could not even introduce ourselves. Every time we tried to say something they yelled at us and said, ‘let me do my job!’ They only made us answer them yes or no to their questions. They were very, very rude and mean to us.

“They were also very racist towards us. The entire time we were there at the Detention Centre they referred to us ‘those Chinese people’. Even though we were in the Detention Centre for two months, nobody knew our names. They referred to us as the Chinese and one even called me the Chinaman which is not even grammatically correct.”

Hao claims he and his friends were held at the Detention Centre and were not allowed to make or receive phone calls for two months.

During those months, he said they were exposed to unsanitary living and inhumane treatment from immigration officers who mocked them and gave them no hope of ever leaving the facility.

The group said at one point they contemplated suicide to get them out of the dilemma as they could not see any light at the end of the tunnel.

“The entire time they used various methods to torture us,” said Hao continuing. “I used to be very fit and strong, but I lost a lot of weight. We were given food three times a day. Most of the time they gave us turkey or pork. It was disgusting and I couldn’t eat it. When I saw the food my first instinct was to vomit. I couldn’t eat it and I gave it to other prisoners.

“The bathrooms and living facilities there were deplorable. They were filthy!

“They forced my friend to clean the places constantly and to unclog the filthy bathtub drains and basins. There was no running water and they made us use buckets and utensils to pour water on ourselves. We were given one small bar of soap to clean ourselves and wash the one set of clothing that we had on. It was horrible!

“The sheets were full of nasty stains and holes and the thin mattress had holes which exposed everything that was in them.

“One of the children, he’s 14, he has allergies and begged to be seen by a doctor. He was so sick they finally took him to a clinic and while there he started to vomit and they tried to give him a drip and he ended up bleeding a lot. There was so much blood! We were literally contemplating suicide before we managed to get hold of a lawyer.”

Hao noted the worst of all the immigration officers was a female who had “three stripes on her shoulders.”

“This female officer, she was so mean to us,” he said.

“She would mock us and say she would get the Chinese version of this and that for us and made it seem like we thought we were better than being there. We are not used to living like that. She would be so disrespectful but wanted us to call her ma’am all the time. She said that’s what people say in The Bahamas.”

Things took a turn for the better when attorney Fred Smith became involved.

“What’s really shocking is after two months, last Thursday, they wanted to do an emergency deportation on us because we retained the attorney Fred Smith. They had no legal papers for us to sign. No deportation papers. We asked about the papers and they said not to worry about it they will escort us to London.

“They wanted their tickets to be upgraded to First Class and they were not going beyond London in their escort. We don’t live in London so clearly they were looking for a vacation in London. When I asked them about this they said, ‘we do whatever we want’. At one point they said they were deporting us to China, but we don’t even live there.”

Whatever the issues with Bahamas Department of Immigration and Hao and his family friends, the group were allowed to leave the Detention Centre on August 5 without being deported. At the time of the interview, they were staying at a hotel in the Lyford Cay area and were planning to leave the same evening.

“We are happy to be leaving this afternoon,” Hao said. “I am happy we met Fred Smith. He assisted us in leaving that place. We are thankful to him. He is going to take care of the lawsuit when we are gone. We now have the correct documents to travel out of here. I am never coming back to this country, ever, and I will not recommend anyone to come here. This is an experience we can never forget.

“I can never forget what they did to us. How they treated us with scorn and disrespect. All those racist remarks and the awful treatment. I aged about 40 years while in that place. They even accused us of not being able to speak English or understand English.”

Hao said The Bahamas can be a beautiful place, but he and his friends are scarred by the treatment meted out to them by the officers of the Bahamas Department of Immigration.

Earlier this year, the United Nations did a tour of the Detention Centre. A report on their findings has been not yet been made public.