Dozens of Hurricane Dorian survivors were forced to leave a ferry headed to the United States after being told they weren’t allowed to enter the country.
The incident happened Sunday evening in the Bahamian city of Freeport on a ferry headed to Fort Lauderdale, Fl. All of the boat’s evacuees had previously been told they could enter the U.S. with their Bahamian passports and a clean criminal record.
But then, something changed. In a video recorded by WVSN-TV reporter Brian Entin, a crew member can be heard telling passengers that they must leave the ship and remain in the Bahamas if they do not have a U.S. visa.
“Please, all passengers that don’t have a U.S. visa, please proceed to disembark,” the crew member says.
The passengers were attempting to flee the wreckage caused by the storm, which has left at least 45 dead and nearly 70,000 without homes. Many have been left without access to food, water or medical care in a state of turmoil some Bahamians have compared to a war zone.
Thousands have reportedly evacuated so far, with many departing for Florida or Nassau, the islands’ comparatively unharmed capital city.
Sunday’s events were a different story, though. Despite the fact that 1,500 Bahamians had been accepted into the U.S. earlier last weekend, many on the Freeport voyage had to stay behind. One woman claimed around 130 people had been forced off the boat.
“At the last minute like this, it’s kind of disappointing,” Renard Oliver, who was forced off the boat, told Entin. “It’s hurtful because I’m watching my daughter cry — but it is what it is.”
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency said the evacuees should have been allowed to stay on the boat, as Bahamian passport-holders are typically allowed to enter the U.S. without a visa. The agency blamed Baleària, the company operating the ferry, telling Entin it was a “business decision” on their part.
“It breaks my heart because it’s like when you raise somebody’s hopes and then you pop the balloon … That, in my opinion, is what Baleària did,” Michael Silva, a CBP spokesperson, told Newsweek. “It raised the expectations of these poor people who have been through an unimaginable situation with the hurricane. … They raised their expectations only to then leave them terribly disappointed.”
It’s unclear when — or if — the denied passengers will be able to attempt evacuating again, but many were distraught about the incident.
“I think this is terrible,” one woman told Entin Sunday. “They originally said that you could come [to the U.S.] without a criminal record and without a visa, and now they are taking that back. That’s awful.”
The outrage didn’t stop on the boat, either. Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke weighed in on the situation Sunday evening, calling the U.S.’s actions “the height of cruelty.”
“It’s on us to prove we’re better than this,” O’Rourke added.