The U.S. Coast Guard repatriated 50 Haitian migrants Tuesday to the Haitian Coast Guard.
The Haitians were among 127 migrants aboard an overloaded 70-foot wooden sailboat traveling Saturday 20 miles off the northeast coast of Cuba. The same day, 10 Haitians were apprehended by the Bahamas Defense Force in a joint effort with the United States Operation Turks and Caicos after a vessel landed on Eleuthera. The sailing yacht was found on a beach in Bannerman Town, Eleuthera, while the migrants were discovered in the bushes and handed over to immigration officials.
The 127 migrants found near Cuban waters were intercepted as part of a joint interdiction effort by the U.S. Coast Guard and Cuban Border Guard. After spotting the migrants, the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Reliance launched a small boat to assist the migrant vessel, which was taking on water. But 77 of the migrants refused to accept life jackets and remained aboard as the boat drifted into Cuban waters.
The Cuban Border Guard took custody of the migrants. It's unclear whether they will be allowed to remain in Cuba or sent back to Haiti, where the flow of migrants taking to the high seas is on the rise. The 50 who did come aboard the Coast Guard cutter were given food, water, shelter and medical attention.
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"This case is one of many inherently dangerous voyages interdicted this year in the unforgiving waters of the Caribbean Sea and Florida Straits,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jeremy Montes, 7th District duty enforcement officer for the U.S. Coast Guard. “These ventures are ill advised because they place the people aboard in grave risk of injury or death due to the unsafe loading of the vessel and lack of adequate lifesaving equipment.”
So far this month, the U.S. Coast Guard said 127 Haitians landed or were interdicted and turned around, compared to five in April last year. Last month, the total was 732 Haitians compared to 68 in March 2017.
While Bahamian authorities, who were called in for assistance, reported that the boat was near their island of Inagua in the southern Bahamas, Marilyn Fajardo, deputy public affairs officer for the Coast Guard, said she can't say where the boat was headed.
"It looks like they were on a northwesterly course. We can't confirm if they were going to the Bahamas or South Florida," she said.
In total, 1,334 Haitian migrants have attempted to illegally migrate to the U.S. via the Florida Straits, Caribbean and Atlantic since Oct. 1, compared to 1,869 Haitian migrants in fiscal year 2017, the Coast Guard said.