On February 3, a large group of Haitian immigrants attempted to sail to Abaco, an island chain in the North Bahamas, which resulted in many of them drowning off the coast of the islands. Currently, the exact number of Haitians involved in this incident is unknown, but estimates are being made by immigration officials. Eye witness news stated that “several of the migrants who survived claimed 45 people made the journey. However, immigration officials believe the figure could be as high as 80.”
Thus far, the death toll for the group is at 28, as reported by the St. Lucia Times. However, this number is expected to rise. In regard to the survivors of the accident, 17 people have been retrieved from the waters near Marsh Harbour, Abaco. The rescue effort was made by the Royal Bahamas Defense Force (RBDF) and the U.S. coast guard over two days.
The large group of illegal immigrants were trying to escape Haiti due to its broken economy and poor living conditions. St. Lucia Times stated that it is “the latest tragedy at sea for people seeking to leave the Caribbean’s poorest economy.”
This expedition by the Haitians is just one of many that have occurred in the past. Originally, escaping Haitians would generally aim for the islands of Turks and Caicos or for the capital of the Bahamas, Nassau. The Miami Herald stated that “Instead of traveling toward the southern Bahamas island of Inagua and coming through the Exumas to reach Nassau as has been customary, boats are now traveling east on the Atlantic to land in the outer islands of the archipelago, perhaps to avoid detection.”
Countries dealing with this sudden influx of Haitian immigrants have become increasingly concerned about the issue. Meetings have formed between the Caribbean countries to discuss possible solutions for the matter. According to the Miami Herald, “Among the ideas raised – and yet to receive any response from Haitian authorities – is a joint maritime agreement that would allow Royal Bahamas Defense Force boats to patrol Haitian waters with Haiti National Police Officers abroad.”
The United Haitian Association has also expressed concerns about the issue following the accident. Its president, Pastor Antoine St. Louis, said “We continue to just push that the Haitian government will continue to do whatever it can to put some kind of stop to this because it has been going on over and over.” The tragic news came as a shock as many Bahaman citizens have close relatives in Haiti. In fact, many at the funeral service had family members on the boat.
Since the body count is still not confirmed, numerous people who had friends or relatives on the boat are still waiting to find out whether or not they made it out alive. The pastor stated later on in the service “We are praying for those families as they come to grips with what took place over the weekend.” St. Louis also stated, “I have not received any calls from Haiti and we are waiting on the embassy to see what we can do,” reports Eyewitness News.