When I was seven or so, my aunt Fifi would take my cousins, siblings and me to demonstrations outside the Immigration and Naturalisation Services building on 79th Street in Miami. We were protesting against the policy – introduced by his Republican predecessors but continued under Bill Clinton – of intercepting Haitian refugees at sea and imprisoning them in Guantánamo Bay. We stood with the other Haitians, clutching aunt Fifi with one hand and waving our other fists in the air, shouting and chanting in a mixture of English and Kreyòl: ‘Let the Haitians in!’
In the Bahamas, there are more immigrants from Haiti than from all other countries combined. They make up perhaps 10 per cent of the population, which totals 400,000, but it’s hard to know for sure. Among their ranks are thousands of people born in the Bahamas to undocumented parents, who are effectively stateless: the Bahamas does not grant birthright citizenship. Merely to appear Haitian is to risk detention and deportation. A 2014 policy requires non-citizens to carry passports. According to rights groups, the police use the policy to harass and extort money from Haitian immigrants afraid of being deported. Round-ups and raids are frequent. Last year, the courts halted a government plan to raze Haitian shanty towns. Hurricane Dorian has accomplished what the government could not.
Oxfam is in serious difficulties. It is reasonable to speculate that the hard time it is being given by the international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt, is due to the workings of Miles’s law - 'Where you stand depends on where you sit' – in that it reflects forces in the British government and the Tory party hostile to the foreign aid programme. I sit as a microbiologist, and see the harmful events in Haiti following the arrival of foreigners after the 2010 Port-au-Prince earthquake very differently, both from a quantitative and from a political point of view.
Many infections kill slowly. Hardly any are lethal within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms. Bubonic plague takes days to kill and haemorrhagic smallpox takes a week. Cholera and inhalation anthrax are about the only diseases whose victims can wake up feeling fit but be dead by nightfall.