Dozens of tired Bahamas residents hoping to seek asylum in the United States from storm-ravaged islands were thrown out by a ferry heading to Florida Sunday night after a message from board that anyone without a valid visa would "have problems "in the US port of entry.
Videos of the incident, following an apparent failure of communication between the ferry company and the United States authorities, are spreading rapidly on social media. Disappointed travelers complained that standard protocols – which in the past allowed Bahamian citizens to enter the US without a visa as long as they had a passport and documentation with a clean criminal record ̵
"Last minute like this," said one passenger Renard Oliver, who was holding a small child while talking to a reporter at the WSVN television station in Miami. "It's bad because I watch my daughters cry. But that is what it is. "
The US authorities emphasize that they continue to release Bahamas residents with acceptable documents in the United States. They said the trouble was that the ferry company had not received prior passenger approval. on board a ship that does not have visas as usual
Parts of the Bahamas have been devastated since Hurricane Dorian shook the country last week, with hundreds still missing and authorities saying it could take months to count the dead.
Oliver said that after boarding the boat, crew members announced on the door phone that US Customs and Border Protection officials had called the boat and said that anyone without a visa had to get off the ship.
US officials stated that their procedures for processing Bahamas in the United States had not changed. Unlike other cruise ship operators and airlines that have deployed hundreds of Bahamas in the US in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, officials said, ferry operators did not contact the US embassy ahead of time to confirm that visa-free travelers do so, in fact, they meet entry requirements, which include a valid passport and a police report received in the last six months.
A spokesman stated that the agency did not refuse entry of passengers to the United States, but instead recommended that they descend and coordinate with the US Embassy, since without such prior authorization it would take hours to process them after arriving in Florida.
“C.B.P. continues to process arriving passengers evacuated from the Bahamas in accordance with established rules and procedures – as demonstrated by the survivors of nearly 1,500 1,500 Dorian hurricanes arriving at the Palm Beach, Florida port aboard a cruise ship on Saturday and were handled without incident, " A spokesman for the agency said in a statement.
The statement went on, "CBP relies on transportation companies, both in the air and in the sea, to be committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of all people who o have been devastated by this tragedy, and this requires transparent communication and planning for adequate resources to receive any arrival. "
The ferry is run by the company of Balearic Islands, which operates frequent voyages between Fort Lauderdale, Bimini and Grand Baham – all popular tourist destinations. Company representatives could not be reached for comment, and it was unclear if or why the board could be handled differently on Sunday than in the past.
Peter Vasquez, a yacht broker in Fort Lauderdale who delivers relief to the Bahamas daily, said he brought storm survivors back to South Florida and they had no problems.
In a statement, Senator Rick Scott of Florida called on officials from the C.B.P. and the Government of the Bahamas to clarify visa rules, abolish certain visa requirements for those Bahamas who have family in the United States, and create a temporary site in US ports of entry to help expedite Bahamas residents by permitting of immigration. "As hundreds of thousands of Bahamas seek refuge or begin to recover from Hurricane Dorian, we cannot have the confusion that arose last night in Freeport," he said.