NASSAU, Bahamas — At least 17 Haitians, including a child, died Sunday after their boat en route to Florida capsized off the Bahamas, the latest tragedy amid a surge in the number of migrants attempting to cross the United States by sea to reach.
Local authorities said they rescued 25 passengers from the 30-foot speedboat, which overturned in rough seas just after midnight on Sunday about seven miles from the Bahamas’ most populous island, New Providence. They said there were up to 60 people on the boat and that the Bahamian and US Coast Guards were searching for the missing.
It was the worst loss of life in Bahamas waters since at least 2019, when 27 Haitian migrants died when their boat capsized en route to the United States.
“We mourn the lost lives of those who seek a better way of life,” Keith Richard Bell, the Bahamas’ immigration minister, said Sunday.
Two of those rescued are Bahamian citizens and are being questioned as part of an investigation into the possible involvement of local smugglers, police said. According to Bahamas officials, passengers paid $3,000 to $8,000 to ride the boat.
The accident underscores the challenge facing the Caribbean island nation as numbers of migrants, mainly from Haiti and Cuba, enter its territory to escape economic turmoil and political persecution at home. Most hope to eventually reach Florida.
Because the vast majority of illegal immigration to the United States comes through the Mexican border, the increased use of the more dangerous sea lanes hasn’t garnered much attention in Washington.
The US Coast Guard intercepted a boat carrying around 200 migrants off the Florida Keys on Friday.
The number of Haitian migrants repatriated by immigration authorities in the Bahamas nearly tripled last year from the previous year to more than 2,200, according to official statistics, as Haiti descended into chaos following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. In recent months, Haiti has been gripped by escalating gang violence that has claimed hundreds of lives and turned parts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, into a war zone.
“As we speak, it is a failed state,” Prime Minister Philip Davis of the Bahamas said in a news conference on Sunday, speaking of the rising number of migrants from Haiti.
The number of Cubans repatriated from the Bahamas has quintupled to 226 in the past year, coinciding with the biggest crackdown on dissidents in decades on the communist-run island. Official repatriation figures obscure the much larger number of migrants passing through Bahamas territory undetected.
The surge in migration has strained the resources of the Bahamas, a tourism-dependent nation whose economy is still recovering from the pandemic.
The number of “illegal migrants and seizures and returns is frankly through the roof,” the nation’s Attorney General Ryan Pinder said last month. It is “much higher than we have ever seen before”.
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