NASSAU, BAHAMAS – The Haitian government has requested that the government of The Bahamas return the bodies of the 27 migrants who drowned in waters off Abaco after their sloop ran aground and capsized on Friday night, according to Minister of Foreign Affairs Darren Henfield.
Henfield said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has had continued dialogue with Haitian officials since the incident.
Speaking to Eyewitness News Online, Henfield also confirmed that an emissary from the Haitian Embassy in Nassau travelled to Abaco on Sunday.
“It is my understanding that the Haitian embassy has asked for the remains to be turned over to them after the pathologist and the inquest is completed,” the minister said.
At least 27 migrants drowned in waters near Fowl Cay, off Man-O-War, Abaco, and 17 were rescued after making a perilous journey from Haiti, according to immigration officials..
The total number of migrants who set sail was unknown.
However, Director of Immigration Clarence Russell said based on reports the figure could be as high as 80.
Local authorities continue to look out for survivors and deceased.
Yesterday, Henfield said the unfortunate incident underscores the dangers of illegal entry attempts from the Caribbean country.
“What is also telling is these boats don’t have any kind of live-saving apparatus on them; they don’t have proper communication equipment, so that they can call for help; and most of the people who travel in them can’t swim,” he said.
“That’s an issue. The best we can do is continue to encourage the Haitian people, through their government and via other means of communication to the population, that this is, in fact, a very dangerous journey to make between Haiti and The Bahamas.
“From time to time we have seen such incidents like this.
“From my past career in the Defence Force, I have seen one too many of them.
“We have to continue to work on all fronts to apprise people of the dangers of this.
“If you make it alive, you are highly likely to be apprehended by immigration authorities and repatriated anyway.
Noting the challenge associated with economic migrants desperately searching for a better life, Henfield said it is an issue that will continue to be “one of the problems of our time”.
The death toll grew Sunday after joint search and rescue operation, which included Royal Bahamas Defence Force marines, immigration, police, and civilians, found additional bodies inside the sunken vessel.
Purported videos and photos of the operation made the rounds on social media, including a photo of white tarps draped over several bodies on the bow of a boat.
The U.S. Embassy in Haiti called the incident a tragedy.
The embassy said, “No journey is worth risking lives. Please urge families and communities: illegal migrant and smuggling operations are dangerous and frequently end in tragedy.”
In an interview with Eyewitness News Online Sunday, Minister of National Security Marvin Dames indicated that authorities began searching for the sloop after receiving some intelligence, but were unable to track its location before tragedy struck.
Dames commended law enforcement and residents on Abaco for their response, which saved lives.
He said the greatest concern with any incident of this nature is the loss of life, but added that authorities will increase efforts to seek out those responsible, including the captain and others involved in human smuggling.
“Our heart goes out to the family members of those individuals, but you know, this is part of that treacherous journey,” the minister said.
“…Sometimes these vessels are not in the best of condition and persons who are engaged in the smuggling activities are only focused on making money.
“And so, we’re putting a lot more efforts and improving strategic outlay to ensure that we’re able to certainly interdict these persons, especially the persons who are captaining these vessels, and [otherwise] engaged in this illicit business; putting other’s lives at risk.”
Dames added the continued efforts of the Defence Force in patrolling The Bahamas’ borders has been critical in the face of a notable increase illegal entry attempts for the year so far.
According to the minister, the Defence Force has interdicted more than 300 migrants by sea since January 1.