(WNN) Port-au-Prince, HAITI, AMERICAS: Displaying what the IOM – International Organization for Migration advocates call “desperation migration,” 17 Haitian migrants died from drowning as they attempted to reach land outside of the borders of Haiti on Christmas Day.
The drownings occurred after shoreline patrol police from the British controlled Turks and Caicos Islands apprehended a fishing sloop entered waterways as they crossed into British territory in the Turks and Caicos Islands southeast of the Bahama Islands.
In the process of towing the 28 foot sloop in the boat capsized as rescue efforts by the Royal TCI water patrol police reached a ‘fever pitch’ closer to shoreline. 21 men and 12 women on the Haitian boat were rescued while 17 of those aboard died after they frantically tried to avoid arrest and swim only 492 feet from the shore. Five of those who died in the water were women. In what has been described as a ‘frantic rescue effort before sunrise’ a 10-year-old child has also been counted as one of those among the drowned.
According to the IOM a new record in the tragedy of deaths for those migrants crossing international borders has now reached 2,378 people during year of 2013. This number is conservative and does not include many unrecorded deaths of African migrants who succumb while crossing the Horn of Africa or Sinai desert, outlined the IOM in a recent statement to the media.
“We offer our condolences and deep sympathy to the families of those affected by this terrible incident,” said Ambassador William Swing, Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), “but we must also find ways to stem the root causes bringing people to risk all by taking to the high seas in flimsy craft,” added the Director General.
Acts of desperation can, and often does, include extraordinary risk as migrants become vulnerable to the whims and most often dangerous conditions provided by their smugglers.
Hoping to reach lands that can give them a better life with jobs and a what they see as ‘a better future’, Haitian migrants are increasingly trying to reach Miami, the Bahamas or the islands of Turks and Caicos.
What is the average smugglers fee for Haitians who hope for safe passage to the U.S. Florida coastline or islands in the Turks and Caicos or the Bahamas? An exorbitant 500 to 1,000 dollars USD per person.
The latest deaths are only part of an ongoing string of drowning events that have occurred as migrant families try to leave Haiti, commonly under the darkness of night. This year the Caribbean along with the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, Australia’s Christmas Island and the seas off Thailand and Indonesia have seen a dramatic increase in tragedies involving the deaths of dozens of migrants per episode, said the IOM.
During the crisis of rescue those responsible for smuggling the migrant boat were not identified. Autopsies of the 17 people who died will be conducted to determine the cause of death by British authorities. The 33 survivors are now in detention at the Turks Caicos Islands Government’s Five Cays immigration detention/removal Centre.
“These people will be repatriated to Haiti at the earliest opportunity,” said Commissioner of the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force Colin Farquhar to TCI Affairs news on December 26.
The Turks and Caicos Islands are a favored route that many smugglers try to use because the region’s waterways provide numerous small cays, sand and coral reefs that can provide a waterway for small to medium sized sailboats. But the IOM cautions they can also cause danger for overcrowded boats that can hit reefs in shallow water before reaching a substantial shoreline.
Only five weeks ago another boat overloaded to an extreme was overturned off the shore of the Bahama Islands. The loss of life at that time numbered 30 people.