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9831: Haiti-Missing Migrants (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
By MICHAEL NORTON
ILE-A-VACHE, Haiti, Dec 1 (AP) -- Ramshackle boats once bound for U.S.
shores lie idle on this rugged island since the disappearance of more than
200 migrants who braved the seas a month ago in search of a better life in
the United States.
Rough waters and heightened security since the Sept. 11 terror attacks
are making such trips nearly impossible, according to dozens of migrants
turned back at sea by authorities.
But for families of the missing, the warnings are too late.
Authorities fear two vessels -- one carrying 150 people, the other 63 --
could have perished off Ile-a-Vache, where pirate Henry Morgan's ship sank
after hitting a reef in the 17th century.
Among the missing is 20-year-old Rose Carmel Jean-Louis, who sold her
gold necklace and a bicycle to pay for the $600 journey.
"Our economic problems are enormous," her cousin, Calixte Douyon, said
Friday. "She believed she would make it, otherwise she wouldn't have sold
all her things to pay for the ticket."
"We don't know what to do," said Wilnes Louissdor, a social worker whose
brother was aboard the boat with 63 people, along with Jean-Louis. "We're
all sitting on pins and needles, just waiting for news."
Several boats made it to the Bahamas, where authorities have either sent
migrants back home or detained them.
Another boatload of 131 Haitians landed on Jamaica's north coast on Nov.
18. Of those, 125 have been repatriated and six are applying for asylum.
No one has heard from any of the 150 aboard a boat that left a month ago
from Ile-a-Vache, off Haiti's southwest coast. The vessel was described as
40-feet-long with a single sail and a motor, as well as a fresh coat of
gray and black paint. It had no name.
"My cousins were aboard that boat and I have not heard from them," said
Vesta Saint-Cyr. She identified them as Vita Pierre, 23, and Franz Pierre,
19, and other passengers as Leon Duvierseau, 22, Pascal Joseph and Altenor
Mentor. She said the boat captain was called Dieudonne.
Yolene Pierre said her sister in Miami had received a call from her
brother, David Celestin, saying his boat had made it to Jamaica. She said
he was aboard the boat with 63 people. But Jamaican officials say only one
boat with 131 people landed in Jamaica and Celestin's name was not among
the six asylum applicants.
"Everyone has the same worries of how to make ends meet," Esperand
Dominique, the government's regional director of social affairs, said in
explaining why people were desperate enough to board rickety and
overcrowded boats. "(People's) fundamental needs are not being met."
He said 10 more trips were planned before the end of the year but had
been canceled after repatriated Haitians warned of the high risks.
"We have high-endurance cutters, planes and helicopters all
participating in patrols," said Luis Diaz, spokesman for the U.S. Coast
Guard in Miami. "After Sept. 11, all that has increased."
Boats built to reach U.S. shores now are being used for fishing and
hauling charcoal from Ile-a-Vache.
Haiti has been mired in crisis since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's
party won 80 percent of seats in parliamentary elections last year that the
opposition alleges were rigged. Hundreds of millions of dollars in
international aid have been frozen until some results are revised. The U.S.
Congressional Black Caucus recently urged President Bush to release U.S.
On this week's first anniversary of Aristide's re-election, party
spokesman Yvon Neptune blamed "the economic blocking that raises
unemployment, poverty and death."
Migrants often leave in November and December because they think U.S.
patrols are more lax during the holidays. They almost always get word to
relatives in Haiti or the United States if their journeys succeed.
Sometimes, those left behind have to assume the worse.
"We can find no confirmation to see if they are dead or not," said
Samedi Florvil, outreach director with the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami.