A journey that began in Haiti and saw dozens of Haitians board a wooden sloop in search of a better life in The Bahamas, ended in disaster with the bodies of 22 victims laying in caskets yesterday at the Enoch Backford Auditorium on Carmichael Road.
“Today is a sad day for all of us,” said Haitian Charge d’Affaires Francois Michel.
“We are burying.. our brothers and sisters, who died in the water while searching for a better life [but instead], they found death. Today is a day of reflection for all of us, not only in Haiti, but here in The Bahamas.”
At least 31 victims drowned near Man-O-War Cay, off Abaco, on February 1, after their vessel ran aground and capsized.
Eighteen Haitians were rescued.
According to officials, 83 people were on board, leaving 34 unaccounted for.
In the packed auditorium yesterday, there were three rows of closed caskets, each draped with a Haitian flag.
A bouquet of flowers tied with blue ribbon rest on top of them.
Staged in a single row on the ground, were nine decorative flower arrangements in memory of the nine victims who had to be buried in Abaco due to their state of decomposition.
Michel continued, “Today, many families have tears in their eyes because they have lost one of their family members. We must not cry, but we must build our character. …We need to show to the world what they see happening today, this is not Haiti.
As he underscored the cultural wonders of the island nation and its deep traditions and resources, Michel urged Haitians against making perilous journeys in search of a better life, insisting that they must turn to each other and be each others brother’s keepers.
Bishop Simeon Hall, the former president of the Bahamas Christian Council, said, “The death of these individuals desperately seeking to better their condition and those of their families, brings into focus the urgent need for regional and international long-term aid, directed in a strategic and efficient manner, which would directly benefit the least; the lost; and the left out in the Republic of Haiti,” said
Hall said the political and economic leaders of Haiti must take a deeper look at themselves, and urged for more to be done to close the widening gap between the wealthy and the impoverished on the Caribbean island.
To affluent Haitians in Haiti, the Haitian diaspora living abroad and those living in The Bahamas, Hall also called on them to “step up and care for their own sisters and brothers”, in an effort to stop Haitians from “taking such dangerous voyages on the open seas”.
His sentiments were echoed by President of the Bahamas National Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention Reverend Dr. William Thompson, who spoke of the need for unity amidst travesty.
He too called on the Haitian government and the government of The Bahamas to do advance measures that will put an end to Haitians making perilous journeys to The Bahamas.
An emotional Madame Ludie Cange-Etienne, the second secretary of the Haitian Embassy in Nassau, said while she still does not know how to explain the tragic loss of life, she asked the bereaved families to not allow sorrow to destroy them.
“We understand the suffering you are going through,” Cange-Etienne said.
“We present our sympathy and solidarity.”
As she spoke, the screams of dozens of grievers pierced the air.
High Commissioner of The Bahamas to CARICOM and Pinewood MP Reuben Rahming, who brought condolences on behalf of the government, said the loss of life — the result of those who risked everything to seek opportunity — struck at the hearts of many.
“We have lost, not just in recent days, we have lost one too many… to the sea in the quest for better,” he said.
“Sadly in the quest for better, the best which is human life was again [lost].
“Therefore, I stand quietly in this moment for we all share this pain.
“…For in all things we are to thank God. I invite you all, if but for a moment, to look through the fog of pain and thank God for the lives saved and the heart of the rescuers.
“In this grief, you must take a moment to say thank you; thank you to the many heroes from ground zero [in an effort] than is ongoing in the aftermath…”
Renewing the government’s commitment to prevent such loss of life and to restore hope and humanity, Rahming recalled Prime Minister’s Dr. Hubert Minnis visit to Haiti last year where he met with Haitian President Jovenel Moise to discuss illegal migration and trade opportunities between the two countries.
Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis said the Progressive Liberal Party supports actions to prevent migrant smuggling, which fuels corruption and organized crime.
He condemned those who place a dollar value on human life.
While authorities continue to search for more victims 10 days after the tragic incident, those responsible for smuggling the migrants, including the captain, have yet to be identified.
Meanwhile, Davis offered a message of hope.
He said though beaten and battered over the years, Haiti and its people have stood tall and proud, but unfortunately “they have in too many cases found it necessary to endanger their lives and separate from families in order to survive; sadly, this could be the result”.
“I am not convinced that these circumstances are brought on by people taking refuge from a place that they do not love,” Davis said.
“In fact, I have yet to meet someone from Haiti who is not deeply in love with his or her country.
“The Haitian flag that drapes these coffins today symbolizes the beginning of resistance; resistance to physical shackles, resistance to prison of the mind and a resistance that led to the freedom of Africans in the western world.
“Today, the resistance continues unfortunately with tragic results.
Bishop Lawrence Rolle, anointed the Singing Bishop, sang “It is well my soul”.
Other speakers, including Archbishop of the Catholic Diocese Patrick Pinder, Abaco Christian President Edgburt Tinker, and Bahamas Christian Council President Bishop Delton Fernander.
Fernander said as Haitians and Bahamians mourn the loss, judgement should be withheld on those who seek a better life.
He pointed out that Haiti and its people led the way to freedom from enslavement in the Caribbean.