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8791: Haitians drown on way to U.S. (fwd)

From: radtimes <resist@best.com>

Haitians drown on way to U.S.

JUL 26, 2001

Six Are Dead, Many Missing, as Boat Sinks Off Bahamas


MIAMI, July 25 — A sailboat packed with perhaps as many as 156 Haitians 
trying to get to the United States ran aground on the reefs surrounding 
Great Inagua Island in the Bahamas during the past week, leaving six dead 
and possibly dozens more missing, American and Bahamian authorities said today.

Helicopters and boats combed the waters off Great Inagua, the southernmost 
island of the Bahamas, on Tuesday looking for signs of life and evacuating 
69 survivors from the island. Based on interviews with survivors, the 
authorities could be looking for as many as 81 others.

"The information is pretty scant right now," said Capt. Raymond 
Farquharson, a senior commander with the Royal Bahamas Defense Force. "We 
understand quite a number came on that craft, more than 69 in any event."

The authorities are unsure when the boat left Haiti, which is about 75 
miles south of Great Inagua, but the survivors told rescuers that the 
vessel ran aground and sank on the second day of the journey. They said 
they had been on Great Inagua for up to a week after swimming to the 
island's northern coast and making their way to a town on the other side.

"They were in pretty bad shape suffering from malnutrition, lack of water 
and exposure," said Brian Bachman, a spokesman for the United States 
Embassy in Nassau. "We don't have many details on what happened, other than 
it was a boat with migrants headed to the United States that went off 
course and ran aground."

Captain Farquharson said he doubted that the migrants had been on the 
island for more than a few days. He said that the Bahamian government was 
first alerted Tuesday by residents of Great Inagua and that a rescue 
operation was mounted with the help of a helicopter from the United States 
Coast Guard.

He said the survivors would be taken to Nassau and held in detention 
facilities until they could be returned to Haiti.

The Bahamas continues to be a popular destination and way station for 
illegal Haitian migrants fleeing economic hardship and political 
instability. Some 60,000 Haitians are believed to be living illegally in 
the Bahamas, where many of them work in menial jobs while trying to save 
money to travel to the United States.

Last year, when a boat carrying more than 250 Haitians was shipwrecked in 
the Bahamas, Haitian officials said they would take steps to discourage 
illegal migration.

"It has gotten heavier over the last two years," Mr. Bachman said. "We have 
documented an increase. There is a sizable portion who stay in the Bahamas. 
Some stay temporarily until they find other means to get to the United 
States. It is a problem the Bahamians are very concerned about."