Over 100 Haitian migrants intercepted by Coast Guard – Sun Sentinel

Over 100 Haitian migrants boarded a homemade boat, attempting to leave a country riddled with gang violence, political turmoil and devastating conditions in the wake of a deadly earthquake.
But at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, the nearly 700-mile trip neared its end on the Atlantic Ocean less than 20 miles away from their destination, the United States.
In total, 104 Haitian migrants were aboard the boat about 17 miles off Miami when officers arrived after someone reported it, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesperson said.
The passengers were spread from the bow to the stern, many sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, some grasping onto the sails and standing where there wasn’t enough room to sit.
The desperate scene, captured in photos by the Coast Guard, was “heartbreaking,” said Léonie M. Hermantin, director of communications at Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center in North Miami.
“Who goes to the bathroom? How do they drink?” Hermantin said. “How do they eat? It’s just horrible.
“When I’m on a cruise ship, I look out at night when it’s pitch black and I try to imagine what it’s like to be on one of these boats.”
The Coast Guard declined to answer further questions about where the trip originated, where those on board were from, the age range of the passengers, or their destination.
The migrants were still aboard two Coast Guard cutters as of Monday afternoon, said Petty Officer Ryan Estrada of the U.S. Coast Guard’s District 7.
What is next for those aboard is still unclear, Estrada said.
And on Monday evening, another boat carrying more than a dozen Haitians made it to shore on Virginia Key, according to WLPG-Ch. 10. U.S. Border Patrol took 11 people into custody, and authorities are continuing to search for as many as 10 others who ran off.
Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, has been mired in even more turmoil than usual since a series of calamities this summer.
On Aug. 14, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake rocked the country and killed over 220 people. Five weeks earlier, on July 7, President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated.
The result appears to be an uptick in Haitians fleeing the country and making the dangerous trek by boat to the U.S.
According to Coast Guard officials, the number of Haitian migrants detained by the Coast Guard this year, from October 2020 to October 2021, was set to be fewer than the last year until Sunday’s interception.
From October 2019 to 2020, 418 Haitian migrants were detained.
This year, that number is 453.
“We were on track to have what appeared to be a decrease in the migrant interdictions that year in terms of the amount of people, and [Sunday’s interception] actually boosted it over quite significantly,” Estrada said.
Haitian-American community leaders like Hermantin say there are more reasons behind Haitians deciding to flee than just the more well-known political issues.
In years past, gangs were a concern only in urban areas, but that’s not the reality anymore, Hermantin pointed out. People across the country are living in fear of kidnappings or of their communities coming under gang control.
Nearly 40,000 people across Haiti are currently displaced due to ongoing violence, the earthquake, and other contributing factors, according to data from the International Organization for Migration.
With the combination of violence, the government without a parliament, the assassination of Moïse and the earthquake, Hermantin said the impetus for people to flee is “on steroids in Haiti.”
“The situation has deteriorated to such an extent that people are risking death over staying in these hellish conditions,” Hermantin said.
The attempts by Haitians to get to the United States requires significant sacrifices for many, Hermantin said. In order to buy their way onto boats like the one intercepted Sunday, it can cost thousands of dollars.
“People have sold property, many sell land or motorcycles, anything that they can monetize to get out,” she said.
Marleine Bastien, executive director of Family Action Network Movement in Miami, has studied the Haitian migration flow for the last 40 years. Bastien said there is typically an increase during times of political unrest, but that is not the only issue Haitians face now.
The advocacy group is awaiting answers about whether those aboard will be sent back to Haiti or if they may be able to seek asylum.
“Haiti is facing one of its worse crises in over 100 years,” Bastien said. “The fact is no refugee should be deported right now. None.”


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