Illegal drugs, human and weapons traffickers are using the vulnerabilities of the geographic location of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) such as The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands to their advantage, making partnerships to combat their activities that more imperative, Minister of National Security the Hon. O. A. T. Turnquest said recently.

“The combination of factors that makes The Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the area of the southern United States they border vulnerable to drug trafficking, illegal migration, and other transnational illegal activities, is well known to us all,” Minister Turnquest said. “Notably, The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands, dispersed widely over a vast geographical maritime area, with small populations and limited resources, are constrained in their capability to police these vast areas.”

“International drug traffickers and others involved in trans-border criminal activities seek to exploit this vulnerability, and to enter the territory of our Small Island Developing States, and to move through them to the United States, a significant country in global economy,” he added. “Relatively speaking, The Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands are themselves stable economies, and have become, and continue to be, the target countries, in particular, for illegal migration.”

Minister Turnquest was addressing the Trilateral Meeting between The Bahamas, the United States of America and the Turks and Caicos Islands, held at the Paul H. Farquharson Conference Centre in the Royal Bahamas Police Force Headquarters. US Ambassador to The Bahamas His Excellency Ned Siegel hosted the meeting.

Also present were Governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands His Excellency Mr. Richard Tauwhare, British Ambassador to the Dominican Republic and to the Republic of Haiti His Excellency Ian Worthington, representatives from the US Embassies in the Dominican Republic and Haiti and Senior Officials and Senior Law Enforcement Officers of the Governments of the United States, the Turks and Caicos Islands and The Bahamas.

Minister Turnquest said that there is, and has always been, general agreement that common problems require cooperative and collaborative action to effectively respond to them. The Bahamas, the United States and the Turks and Caicos Islands, he added, have a well-established tradition of close cooperation and successful counteraction against the illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, under the umbrella of Operation Bahamas Turks and Caicos (OPBAT).

“We know, however, that despite persistent efforts by our Governments, both at the national level and through bilateral and multilateral cooperation, drug trafficking and illegal immigration remain enduring features of our national and regional environment,” he said. “Importantly, drug trafficking and illegal migration are now associated with a dangerous and disturbing traffic in small arms and light weapons and migrant smuggling.

“We know, also, that our countries, particularly our two Small Island Developing States, have been seriously impacted by illicit trafficking, and particularly the traffic in small arms and light weapons. In The Bahamas, this trafficking in guns has contributed markedly to the escalation of violent crime involving the use of guns, including murder.”

Minister Turnquest commended Governor Tauwhare and Ambassador Siegel for their foresight in taking the initiative to expand the scope of efforts to counter transnational criminal activities, and to expand the reach of countries in the area. The Bahamas, the Minister said, was pleased to have participated in the First Trilateral Meeting held in the Turks and Caicos Islands in December 2007.

“Reports I received from my colleague Minister of State for Immigration (Senator the Hon. Elma Campbell) indicated that the meeting was a mutually beneficial one,” Minister Turnquest said. “The invaluable forum it provided allowed for the discussion of issues of mutual concern, particularly in respect of illegal migration and drug trafficking. I commend you, Ambassador Siegel, as host of this Second Trilateral Meeting, which continues the process of concretising initiatives put in place at the First Meeting.”

Minister Turnquest added that he had reviewed the Agenda for the meeting and it gave him confidence that the meeting would be “a substantive and fruitful one.”

“The report of the Tripartite Working Group, in particular, should bring important perspective to the strategies and policies we will consider to meet head on the challenges of drug trafficking and migrant smuggling,” he said.

Minister Turnquest said he was “certainly pleased” that Ambassador Worthington and the representatives from the United States Embassies in the Dominican Republic and Haiti attended the meeting. For The Bahamas and as well for the Turks and Caicos Islands, illegal migration from Haiti is an ever-present challenge, he said.

“We would certainly value viewpoints on the economic, social and political trends in Haiti, and in particular, the probability for an early resolution of conflict and crisis in that sister CARICOM state,” Minister Turnquest said. “We would not want see more Haitians leaving their homes and risking life and limb in illegal migratory flows.”

Minister Turnquest said that a frank and open dialogue should “auger well” for the brainstorming session of the meeting,
when a number of specific issues, including securing airports and seaports and reviewing the matter of wooden-hulled
sail freighters would be discussed. For The Bahamas, it would also be important to discuss matters relating to intelligence gathering and sharing and best practices, particularly on emerging patterns of migrant smuggling from countries now featuring prominently in illegal migratory flows into and through The Bahamas, he said.

“I look forward to the outcome of this important meeting,” Minister Turnquest said. “I am certain that its deliberations, conclusions and recommendations will strengthen the reliable and effective partnership between The Bahamas, the United States and the Turks and Caicos in the areas of drug trafficking, illegal migration and other transnational organised crime.”