France accused of racist response to Irma

A street on Saint Martin after the island was hit by Hurricane Irma.
Thursday, September 14, 2017

Residents of the Caribbean islands of Saint Martin, Saint Barthelemy and the British Virgin Islands have been left with little support to face the humanitarian crisis caused by Hurricane Irma.

According to the latest count, nine people died on the French administered side of Saint Martin and hundreds more were injured after Irma hit on September 5.

About 1 million people have had no water or electricity since the hurricane hit with winds of 250 kilometres an hour, destroying around 95% of the French side of Saint Martin.

Aside from the poor hygiene and lack of food and water, residents on the French side have accused local authorities of racially profiling the people who were trying to leave the island via sea or air.

Airports have allegedly restricted access to people of colour. The local channel Guadeloupe 1ere also reported that a boat, Archipel 1, evacuated about 300 white tourists, mostly from the United States, from Saint Martin to Guadeloupe, with “only three black people on board,” according to a witness.

The boat's captain told the channel that he had been ordered to do so by local authorities — but they later denied the claim.

Sixty thousand people signed a petition on Change.org demanding airlines stop speculating on the flight prices after they skyrocketed while many were trying to leave the island in a bid to escape the hurricane and its aftermath.

Opposition lawmakers from both the left (Unbowed France) and right (The Republicans) of centrist President Emmanuel Macron's government have called for a legislative commission to investigate why the French residents could not be properly evacuated and if airlines speculated on prices.

Criticised for his management of the disaster, Macron visited Saint Martin one week after Irma hit the island, as some describe chaotic scenes of a “civil-war like situation,” with armed gangs allegedly looting all stores across the island.

A French legislative report already warned in 2014 about the worrying levels of poverty on the side under its administration. About 30% of the population is unemployed, and the lack of quality infrastructure makes it ill-prepared to deal with natural disasters.

[Abridged from TeleSUR  English.]

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