Thursday, March 30, 2023

Deadly boat trip sheds light on Haitians fleeing violence

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico ( Associated Press) – Haitians are increasingly fleeing to neighboring Dominican Republic, where they try to reach Puerto Rico on wooden boats painted sky blue to blend with the sea They take aboard – a journey in which 11 Haitian women drowned this week, along with dozens of other migrants missing.

It was the latest fatality travel as US officials said they have doubled the number of migrants in and around US jurisdictions in the Caribbean over the past year compared to a year earlier.

“We’ve seen our Haitian numbers explode,” Scott Garrett, acting chief patrol agent for US Customs and Border Protection in Puerto Rico, told the Associated Press.

Garrett and others say that Haiti’s political instability, coupled with brutal mass violence and a crumbling economy, has driven people to do the same through the Dominican Republic. The two countries share the island of Hispaniola, which lies to the west of Puerto Rico, which has a treacherous area known as the Mona Passage that separates the two.

In the most recent capsizing, seen on Thursday, 11 bodies of Haitian women were found and 38 people were rescued – 36 of them Haitians and two from the Dominican Republic. Officials say one of the rescued people was charged with human trafficking. The boat capsized about 11 miles (18 kilometers) north of Desecheo, an uninhabited island west of Puerto Rico. Dozens are said to be missing.

Garrett said it was unclear how many migrants were on the boat, but said the survivors provided officials with their own estimates. “The number we’re hearing is somewhere between 60 and 75,” he said.

The search continued on Friday, with the US Coast Guard scouring the open waters northwest of Puerto Rico by boat, aircraft and helicopter.

US Coast Guard spokesman Ricardo Castrodad said rescue operations began on Thursday after a US Customs and Border Protection helicopter saw people clinging to the capsized boat, adding that the crew worked overnight.

“We are always looking for the possibility of finding survivors,” he said.

Officials released images showing migrants on a boat in open water as they await rescue. Once ashore, migrants were driven down a pier, with at least one wearing nothing but underwear. Some were taken in ambulances, and eight Haitians remained hospitalized on Friday.

Voyages on flimsy boats known as yolas, which Garrett said often only took small motors to evade detection, had long been a way of fleeing their country despite ongoing warnings about the danger to migrants. The cheapest way has been. Smaller motors mean longer travel, which in turn makes it more dangerous.

He said 30 to 40 migrants are usually on boats, but those aboard said that the number was almost twice that number.

On Saturday, 68 migrants were rescued in the Mona Passage, and a Haiti-based woman died. On May 7, Customs and Border Protection detained 60 Haitian migrants, the agency said were smuggled through southwest Puerto Rico. On May 4, another 59 Haitian migrants were detained in northwestern Puerto Rico. In late March, officials said they had detained more than 120 migrants in three separate incidents of maritime smuggling.

According to US Customs and Border Protection, from October 2021 to March, 571 Haitians and 252 people from the Dominican Republic were detained in the waters around Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Of the Haitians, 348 landed on Puerto Rico’s uninhabited Mona Island and were rescued.

Tom Homan, who was acting director of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement during much of the Trump administration, said the latest incident has seen migrants get lost, taking them away from the US mainland, or maybe Trying to reach Puerto Rico. , a US territory where they may seek asylum. Both scenarios are common.

It is unusual to have so many women on board, he said, referring to the 11 people killed.

“These migrants are putting their lives in the hands of people who don’t see them as people,” Garrett said. “They see migrants as commodities to be traded and to earn money.”

Pierre Esperance, executive director of the Haitian National Human Rights Defense Network, said he expected the trips to continue despite the continuing warnings about the danger.

“For Haiti people living in Haiti is more risky than trying to leave Haiti to lead a better life,” he said.

A UN report says that there has been an 180% increase in kidnappings of more than 11 million people and a 17% increase in murders in the past year. Dozens of people, including women and children, have been killed in recent weeks amid new conflicts between gangs fighting over the area as their power rises after the July 7 assassination of President Jovanel Mosse. The United Nations said last week that civilians were being burned alive and children as young as 10 were being gang-raped.

Haiti has also been hit by double-digit inflation, severe gas shortages and gang violence that has closed hundreds of schools and businesses and prompted the temporary closure of some hospitals and clinics. In addition, the Biden administration has deported more than 20,000 Haitians in recent months amid heavy criticism over the country’s decline.

“Even if it is dangerous to get in a boat, it is more dangerous for people to live in Haiti,” Esperance said. “There is no rule of law in Haiti.”


Associated Press reporter Elliot Spagett in San Diego, Calif., contributed.


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