Since last October, the U.S. Coast Guard has prevented 823 Haitians from reaching the United States by sea, an increase from 769 interdicted during the same period last year, according to its website. In December, the Cuban government said 38 Haitian migrants died and 87 others were rescued after a boat sank off the island’s eastern coast.
Antonio Rodrigue, Haiti’s ambassador to the Bahamas, said the increase in Haitians being interdicted at sea and Sunday’s tragedy are not a reflection of life back in Haiti.
“Haitians want to go to the United States. Families arrange for them to go to the Bahamas and then to the U.S.,” he said. “This is not the first time we’ve had an incident like this.”
He said the Haitians on the boat “came from all over.” Some, like Shana’s family, had been living in the Bahamas for 20 years. Others had recently arrived from Haiti, hoping to make it to the United States.
Illegal Haitian smuggling operations out of the Bahamas, and particularly Abaco, are fairly common, Rodrigue said, and he confirmed that last week a wooden sloop, arriving from Haiti, was able to drop off undocumented Haitians in the Turks and Caicos undetected.
For now the bodies are in the morgue, said Rodrigue. “We’re waiting,” he said. “We don’t know if families will claim the bodies.” If they do not, burying the victims could fall on the shoulders of the cash-strapped Haitian government.
Both Haiti’s president and prime minister issued condolences to the families of the victims Tuesday. President Michel Martelly called on "Haitian citizens to avoid putting themselves at risk by using illegal channels” to travel to foreign countries.
Marleine Bastien, the director of Haitian Women of Miami, said that she was “shocked and concerned” that people were once again trying to make the dangerous journey to the United States. She said Haitians need more legal options to enter the country so they won’t take the risk of paying people smugglers for their passage.
She and other Haitian advocates have been pushing for the Haitian Family Reunification Parole program, proposed legislation modeled after a similar program that allows Cubans to come to this country while their visas are being processed.
“We want to send the message to people in Haiti to not risk their lives,” Bastien said. “We do not want to lose more brothers and sisters.”