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9648: Haitians try to flee by sea despite tough odds (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

     By Trenton Daniel

     PORT-AU-PRINCE, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Rigaud Ulysse, who was among
hundreds of Haitians intercepted in international waters last week and
repatriated to their desperately poor island country, says he would risk
his life again if given the chance.
     If he could, the unemployed 31-year-old would again board a flimsy,
overcrowded boat with a scant supply of food and water and set sail across
a shark-infested stretch of the Caribbean to reach what Haitians call "the
other side" -- the coast of Florida or the Bahamas.
     "Of course, I would do it again," said Ulysse, whose name recalls the
hero Ulysses from the Greek epic of a man lost at sea, "The Odyssey." "I
have no job, no food. There is nothing in Haiti."
     Ulysse was among 350 Haitians swept up last week by the U.S. Coast
Guard cutter Legare from four rickety vessels off the northern coast of
Haiti and repatriated on Saturday. On Friday, the U.S. Coast Guard cutter
Seneca returned another 44 Haitians who were found drifting near the
country's southwestern tip.
     Haiti is the poorest nation in the Americas. The majority of its eight
million people earn less than $2 a day and two-thirds suffer from
     Meanwhile, about $500 million in foreign aid remains on hold while
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the opposition bloc Democratic
Convergence feud over how to resolve a disputed election held in May 2000.
     The latest group of 350 boat people were part of a recent rise in the
numbers trying to escape Haiti's poverty, crime and political troubles.
     "It's been five or six years since we've had a single repatriation of
this size," said Marc Cawthorn, Coast Guard liaison for the U.S. Embassy in
     Haitian refugees have been landing on Bahamian shores by the thousands
this year.
     The Bahamas have repatriated more than 6,000 Haitians so far this
year, compared to 4,879 last year. On Friday, authorities detained 127
Haitians after discovering their boat 20 miles (32 km) west of the island
     The surge of Haitian refugees has been blamed on factors from calm
weather to mistaken rumors about U.S. patrols easing up, Coast Guard
officers said.
     "I think it's the weather and the conditions in Haiti and the fact
that they might think we're not out there," said Legare Capt. Michael
     "Maybe they don't know that we're out here because of what happened on
Sept. 11," he said, referring to stepped-up security after the attacks on
Washington and New York.
     Many of the returned migrants have said they were misled by organizers
of the voyages who told them U.S. immigration policies were relaxed after
the attacks.
     Chances are extremely slim that Haitian migrants will succeed in the
650-mile (1,046-km) journey to Miami.
     "The odds aren't in their favor. The fact is, their vessels are
crudely built, they have no navigational gear, and they have a limited
supply of food and water," Parks said in his ship cabin. "Getting all the
way up to Florida is an enormous undertaking."
     Obstacles include potential hurricanes or other storms at sea and
man-eating sharks.
     But many Haitians believe they have no other choice than to make the
desperate journey.
     Widlouis Laguerre, an unemployed 24-year-old who was deported from
Canada two years ago for selling marijuana, said he sold all of his
possessions for his voyage and paid the equivalent of about $280.
     "I left because I don't have no job, I don't have no family here,"
said Laguerre. "I don't have nothing to do. I don't have nothing in my
pocket. It's so bad."