Above: Haiti’s northwest coast (UN Photo/Logan Abassi)
By the Caribbean Journal staff
The death of a Haitian migrant who drowned trying to reach the Bahamas this week was the latest in a series of incidents of Haitians fleeing their country by sea, something that has led to “concern” at the United Nations refugee agency.
“Continuing difficulties in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake are leading thousands of Haitians to flee their homeland each year, often in unseaworthy vessels,” said Melissa Fleming, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
The world body said that hundreds of deaths occur each year in such situations, although no firm data exists.
“These events are a reminder of the extremes that people in difficult situations sometimes resort to,” she said.
According to US Coast Guard data, more than 900 people have been found on boats in rescue or interception operations since December, 652 of whom were Haitians.
The flight has come largely because of what the UN called “increased levels of criminality and insecurity,” along with the lingering effects of Haiti’s devastating earthquake of January 2010; some 421,000 people still remain in tent caps in Haiti.
“UNHCR continues to advocate for the inclusion of adequate protection safeguards for individuals apprehended at sea, and hopes that such tragedies can be avoided in the future through enhanced international cooperation in the region,” Fleming said.
Another incident in June, also near Abaco in the Bahamas, saw the drowning of a boat carrying Haitian migrants that killed at least 11 people.
Haiti President Michel Martelly has urged Haitian citizens to avoid putting themselves at risk by using illegal channels to travel to foreign soil.