Bahamians call for talks with Haiti over migrant smuggling

The Bahamas’ foreign minister said Wednesday his nation will seek to hold talks with Haiti and others in the coming days over ways to discourage migrant smuggling.

“This tragic story continues with too much regularity despite strenuous efforts to stop and discourage it,” Foreign and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell said. “This is a human tragedy.”

Mitchell’s announcement came as the U.S. Coast Guard ended its assistance in a harrowing search and recovery for missing Haitian migrants who were aboard a 40-foot wooden sailboat that capsized off the Bahamas Coast in the Exuma chain of islands.

At least 30 migrants were confirmed dead. But on Wednesday, Bahamian authorities were still struggling to retrieve all the bodies, a spokesman for the Royal Bahamas Defence Force said.

“We’ve been having difficulty getting to them, ” said Defence Force spokesman Lt. Origin Deleveux, adding that they had enlisted the help of local fishermen. “The water around there is extremely, extremely shallow.”

U.S. Coast Guard and the Bahamas military had resumed their search at daybreak after rescuing 110 Haitian migrants. . An additional survivor was rescued Wednesday morning 13 miles northeast of the capsized boat.

“He was dehydrated, but considering the circumstances, he was pretty lucky,” U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Mark Barney said.

By late afternoon, the U.S. Coast Guard had been informed their assistance was no longer needed.

Meanwhile, a Bahamian military vessel was en route to Ragged Island where a second group of Haitians – as many as 60 – were stranded.

The simultaneous Haitian migrant smuggling operations have become common lately as Bahamian and U.S. officials report an increase of undocumented Haitians trying to enter the United States. “We again urge people not to take the risky journeys on the high seas which too often lead to the loss of life and the tragedy that occurred in the Exuma Cays,” said Mitchell, noting the Bahamas plans to take additional measures to prosecute smugglers.

Antonio Rodrigue, Haiti’s ambassador to the Bahamas, said migrants told him that they left from the L’île de la Tortue, a small island off Haiti’s northwest coast. “Not all of them are from the northwest,” Rodrigue said of the 111 survivors. “What struck me was the number of young people, teenagers.”

The boat left on Nov. 18, and officials said they believed that the Haitians who died did so from dehydration and starvation. The boat flipped sometime overnight Monday near Harvey Cay in the Exuma chain, about 200 miles southeast of Miami. It was the second time in recent weeks that the Coast Guard had responded to a fatal boating incident involving Haitian migrants.