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#3398: Refugees on way home (fwd)

From: Rosann Clements <rosann@onemain.com>

Published Saturday, April 29, 2000, in the Miami Herald
Refugees on way home
Haitian survivors arrive in Bahamas
NASSAU -- Looking dehydrated and with clumps of sand still in their hair,
222 Haitian shipwreck survivors stumbled off a Bahamian coast guard cutter
Friday -- the final stop before their expected repatriation to their
troubled homeland.
A Haitian government official who interviewed several of the survivors said
the reported death toll of 14 people could climb higher.
``One of the first things they told me was that more than 14 people died,''
said Pierre Richard Cajuste, Haiti's consul in the Bahamas.
Cajuste said complex factors were to blame for the recent surge in illegal
immigration from Haiti, but he said the country's dire economy was the
biggest catalyst.
``It's difficult to know exactly what reason,'' Cajuste said. ``Haiti is
experiencing an economic crisis.''
But at least one survivor who was transferred to Nassau on Friday said
political persecution led him to flee his country.
Genio Eloi, 32, said he and other passengers had received threats in Haiti
because of their affiliation with Espace, an opposition political coalition.
The headquarters of one party in the coalition was set on fire this month by
mobs who accused its members of orchestrating the murder of Haiti's most
famous radio journalist.
``We had problems after the death of Jean Dominique,'' Eloi said. ``They
said it was Espace that killed him. They told us all to go into hiding.''
While immigration officials ferried the last group of 60 survivors from the
Coast Guard cutter onto school buses, Eloi offered a few details of the
doomed journey: The trip was an impromptu escape effort that got its start
after a group of young men stole the boat, he said.

After several days at sea with limited food and water, some of the
passengers died. The crowded conditions made it almost impossible to tally
the dead.
``They died of hunger. They died because they couldn't get water,'' he said.
The shipwreck survivors disembarked from the Coast Guard cutter in the heart
of Nassau's pastel-colored tourist village as Calypso music boomed in the
background and cruise ships and hotel resorts beckoned.
In interviews with government officials and reporters, passengers on the
doomed 50-foot sailboat told of the harrowing conditions they had endured.
Carlton Wright, a spokesman for the Bahamian Foreign Ministry, said there
were 181 men and 41 women on board the cutter Friday. The group was being
taken to a detention area at the Foxhill prison where they would await a
return flight to their homeland.
``They will be repatriated back to Haiti as soon as arrangements can be
made,'' Wright said.
The status of one passenger who said he was Cuban was still under
investigation, he said.

Wright, who speaks Creole, said the death toll on board remained
unconfirmed. In interviews with survivors he learned that most of those who
died had been tossed overboard by fellow passengers. But the shipwreck
survivors had to conduct last rites for two others after their boat ran
aground on a narrow island strip Wednesday.
``They buried two people on Flamingo Cay,'' he said.
Withfield Mortimer, 65, a Bahamian taxi driver who observed the transfer,
shook his head in quiet sympathy.
``It saddens me to see that people will risk their lives like that,''
Mortimer said. ``It's just because their country is so depraved. That's
really what you call desperation. I hope the Bahamas will never become like