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Shantytown Dwellers Have Legal Claims

The  President  of Rights Bahamas  Stephanie  St. Fleur  says  that many of the Shantytown occupants who have been ordered to leave  their communities have been there for 20 to 40 years, therefore they could have a claim in the matter if they were to fight it in court.

In  a packed room in a downtown restaurant early yesterday morning  St. Fleur  addressed the emotionally charged issue of Shantytowns and roundly criticized the government for breaking the law.

 The government intends to  impose the August 10th deadline for all such residents to pack up and leave the unregulated communities.

Ms. St. Fleur  focused on a number of misconceptions surrounding these makeshift areas which touched on the belief that Shantytowns only house illegal immigrants and the belief that Haitians are unsanitary.

According to Ms. St. Fleur, Shantytowns – a term the human rights community avoids – are traditional villages and close-knit local neighborhoods that play an integral role in Bahamian society.

She said that contrary to popular belief, many of these communities were not created by illegal immigrants.

She said that they have their roots in government crown land granted to Bahamian Farmers.

According to the Rights Bahamas President, these farmers hired labourers from all levels of society which included men, women, local, and foreign.

In many cases, she said, the workers were able to work and live on the land for profit while providing the land owners with a small fee.

She added that after farmers had ceased operations, the workers were still allowed to occupy the land.

Over the years, other individuals settled on the land; especially those with illegal status.

However, many of them were migrants living and working in the country legally.

This is also what a survey conducted by the Shantytown task force revealed back in March.

The report revealed that seventy per cent of Shantytown   dwellers have a right to reside in the country, and by law, they may have a right to fight their case in court, given that many of them have spent decades on these properties.

She said, the fact is that these communities follow long Bahamian traditions. The acquisitions of land through decades of unchallenged occupation, which is called adverse possession, in route of the great deal held by Bahamian families across the country.”

She added, it is also how communities like Bain andGrants town came about. The law also says that if a person occupies a piece of land for 12 or more years and develops that land, he or she may make claim to the property to the Quieting Title Act.

She concluded her address citing American civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, who once said “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”.

Ms. St. Fleur was a guest speaker at the SunrisersRotary Club meeting at Smugglers Restaurant.

Written by Jones Bahamas

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