Seven miles off the Bahamian island of New Providence, just after 1 a.m. on July 24, the Royal Bahamas Police and Defence Force responded to reports of a boating incident. Rescue teams recovered 17 dead bodies of Haitian migrants after a boat had capsized off the cost of the island nation. Dozens were rescued and turned over to health officials for monitoring, Bahamian authorities said.
“A multi-agency investigation is underway to determine the full circumstances surrounding a suspected human smuggling operation, which has resulted in the deaths of these irregular Haitian migrants,” Bahamian Prime Minister Philip Davis said during a press conference. “Preliminary investigations suggest that a twin engine speedboat left a dock facility off West Bay Street around 1 a.m. with approximately 60 persons on board,” the prime minister said.
Frequent transit route
The Bahamas is a frequent transit route for Haitians seeking to depart the island of Hispaniola. Dangerous sea voyages in rickety vessels have become increasingly common over the last year as Haitians flee poverty and rising gang violence, reported Reuters. “What happened this morning was not an entry to the Bahamas, but rather an exit from the Bahamas, with emigrants who were already here,” Prime Minister Davis said. “How they got here, we’re not quite sure, as the investigation is still continuing.” Bahamas Immigration Minister Keith Bell indicated that each Haitian migrant paid between $3,000 and $8,000 for the voyage. “We mourn lives lost of those seeking a better way of life.”
Based on numbers noted in news releases dating back to January, NPR reported that the Bahamas Department of Immigration has intercepted at least 830 Haitian migrants since the beginning of the year. The perilous journeys have become more frequent as Haitians flee ongoing political instability, gang violence, and poverty in their home country, according to NPR.
The exact numbers are hard to determine, but as Reuters reported, in May, a boat carrying 842 Haitian migrants washed ashore along the north coast of Cuba. That same month, 11 people drowned when a vessel carrying Haitian migrants capsized near Puerto Rico. “Those here with families and friends in Haiti, encourage your loved ones not to risk their lives,” Minister Bell pleaded.