The Climate Refugees from Hurricane Dorian

By Rebecca Marasco

Aftermath of Hurricane Dorian. PC: WikiCommons

When Hurricane Dorian, Category 5 Storm, slammed, stalled and swept through the Bahamas on September 1, 2019, the storms devastating impact on the island has left international politicians and hurricane survivors pinned down between a rock and a hard place. The rubbled remains of the coral-based archipelago island will be sorted through by remaining locals, government aid and relief organizations for years to come. International news organization Reuters reported Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis stating the official death toll from Dorian at 50 people on September 14. This number is expected to increase due to hundreds of people who still remain missing and those who are yet to be found.

Confusion and frustration are boundless among locals pushing off for safe harbors such as Nassau and Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Survivors attempting to evacuate the island on the ferry Baleària made headlines when the transit of hundreds of Bahamians to safety was interrupted. We can thank reporter Brian Entin who posted to Twitter a crew member of a Baleària Caribbean ferry sending a message over the intercom: “Please, all passengers that don’t have a U.S. visa, please proceed to disembark." Amidst widespread panic, the announcement instructing all those who did not possess "totally proper documentation" required by President Trump to exit the ferry created more red tape. Their right to transit was irrationally revoked regardless of the hours many spent in the terminal line to buy a ticket to evacuate or the situation they were escaping. This “humanitarian” response to the crisis hasn’t lined up with traditional standards of disaster response.

Hurricane Dorian at peak intensity on September 1, 2019 with sustained winds of 185 mph (295 km/h). PC: WikiCommons

The reality of hurricanes and tropical storms this year and the years to come does not provide ample time to apply for a proper visa before stepping foot onto an aircraft, ferry or other vessel. Barely enough time to stand in line to purchase a limited amount of tickets. To seek a sanctuary in refuge from climate events becomes a gray area for locals and diplomats alike. Until the first formal recognition from the U.N. last December 2018, climate change was not recognized as a driving factor for migration. Now that climate change is legally acknowledged as a driving force for displaced people, does this change standard protocol to enter the United States during an emergency evacuation? When there is no emergency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection state online the standard practice for Bahamians traveling to and from the Bahamas. Such protocol requires a passport and a printed police record proving a clean history.

Dorian is undoubtedly an international wake-up call about the severity of climate change in intensifying extreme weather patterns. If you’re still on the fence about climate change, here is the International Panel on Climate Change reference guide you can read on a rainy day. I am not here to add fire to the exhaustive debate whether the climate is changing or if your hypothetical child saying he has a fever is faking it to get out of school or not. I’m here to continue a conversation for the Caribbean who have been affected greatly and will be again next year. Island communities who are not the driving force in climate change are seeing its dramatic effects first hand. Such vulnerability requires humanitarian response with appropriate measures for positive action on the ground level instead of a long winded debate in a bureaucratic office.

Ask the Bahamas PC: WikiCommons

In all depressing, even frightening, situations, there must surface an idea or guiding light to mitigate future risk for millions of people. For the past two years I have taken the path less traveled and have been working at sea between the Northeast coast of the U.S. and the Caribbean. While sailing in offshore waters the insurmountable amount of cruise liners also in transit stirs up a few ideas between pro-sailors and a chef at sea such as myself.

Given the complexity of climate change and migration, there are feasible options available in international partnership with private cruise line companies. Cruise ships have been exemplified as a practical and safe option to respond to hurricanes in the Caribbean. Their ability to be one of the first to respond is mostly due to their locale to popular destinations including the Bahamas. Cruise ships and bigger cruise liners hold great potential to provide a space for evacuees that are already prepared with supplies for medical response, food provisions and a safe environment with proper equipment to weather a storm.

As it turns out, the American Institute for Economic Research agrees and promotes the philosophy of voluntary exchange. Cruise liners who responded to the hurricane damage using their own resources include the Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Carnival and Disney. Rather than making infamous news with Baleria, these cruise liners have chosen to put their image in a positive light. However, not all that glitters is gold. Based on any private cruise company revenue stream, the amount of money they have invested for Bahamian recovery is minuscule as duly noted by The New York Times.

Norwegian Cruise Line Ship. PC: WikiCommons

In September 2017, The Tribune-Business featured a conversation among the Commonwealth of The Bahamas and private-sector business heading in and out of port. Dionisio D’Aguilar, Minister of Tourism and Aviation, in a business article debunking how the Bahamas have gone private by no longer paying cruise ships to come to the island. In turn, the cruise-lines and other private-sector companies are asked to continue investing in public and private port and in infrastructure. 70 percent of the Bahamas’ six million-plus annual visitors are cruise passengers. Each spending between $100-$150 per passenger at each destination. Current stakeholders on projects that all in all represent more than $1 billion being invested in new cruise facilities in the Bahamas doesn’t sound like much in the grand scheme of $35.5 billion the industry is generating according to the 2016 Statista report.

While the numbers can always be negotiated, investments the Bahamas have created a valuable platform for emergency response. Prediction models are on the cutting edge of being precise and accurate giving advance notice if and when a tropical storm may or may not turn into a hurricane of catastrophic category. Ensuring nearly all evacuees can either enter a nearby country or board a cruise ship bridges the uncertainty of where most displaced person’s will seek refuge. Once the cruise liner has landed and boarded evacuees, they can take on the ability to travel away from the path of the storm and remain either in international waters or near coastal in another country’s territory without having requiring a visa. While in international waters or near coastal on cruise ship the only requirement for proper documentation is to provide a current passport. In an emergency response procedure, add in a clean police record and the light turns green to board for anyone seeking safety. Perhaps in order to obtain any legal documents on short notice leaves an opportunity to examine the abilities of The International Criminal Police Organization (InterPOL). Seeing as printing a clean police record may not be accessible in lieu of a storm, the parameter shall uphold a valid document printed within a months time. This ensures residents to print a document, amended to be freely available, once a month. Such a procedure retracts the United States from having any jurisdiction on who can board a vessel to safety.

The Bahamas depend on cruise line company and the cruise liners depend on the Bahamas. Each cruising company who has profited and invested in the island communities of the Caribbean have a moral obligation in emergency response and aid. In the following weeks since Dorian, the private-sector has “risen to the occasion” according to Dionisio D’Aguilar regardless of a prior relationship that is undoubtedly experiencing difficulties. Yet, all differences aside we can all agree on a few things. One of which is when everything is destroyed, no stores are open and people need access to medical resources and provisions, it is the private sector and not for profit organizations that step in alongside the locals, not government agencies.

Calm before the storm (Lucayan National Park). PC: WikiCommons








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