HomeNewsHaiti Migrants Dying Off Bahamas, Puerto Rico in Human Smuggling Disasters
NEWS

Haiti Migrants Dying Off Bahamas, Puerto Rico in Human Smuggling Disasters

CARIBBEAN / 27 JUL 2022 BY DOUWE DEN HELD EN

At least 17 Haitian migrants have died after the boat on which they were traveling to the United States capsized, highlighting the alarming deficiencies in the operations of human smugglers that offer migrants safe passage.

On July 24, Bahamian Prime Minister Philip Davis told a press conference that a vessel - most likely a speedboat - had overturned off the coast of the Bahamas with the loss of 17 lives, Reuters reported

The victims were part of a group of up to 60 Haitians, believed to be on their way to Miami. Bahamian authorities rescued 25 people, though an unknown number of others are still missing. Two Bahamians have been taken into custody over the suspected human smuggling operation.

“We take this opportunity to strongly condemn the organization of smuggling operations, which risks human life and compromises our national security,” the prime minister said. 

SEE ALSO: G9 vs. G-PEP - The Two Gang Alliances Tearing Haiti Apart

A similar tragedy occurred near Puerto Rico in May this year, when 11 Haitian migrants died after the vessel they were traveling on capsized.

That same month, a boat bound for the US and carrying 842 Haitians washed ashore along the Cuban coast after straying off course. 

Haiti’s turbulent history, misfortune with natural disasters, and humanitarian, security, and political crises have pushed many to search for a better life elsewhere. Furious gang fighting across June and July in the capital, Port-au-Prince, has claimed hundreds of lives and left many thousands more trapped in their homes without access to basic necessities. 

Yet it is incredibly difficult for Haitians to leave their homeland. According to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), Haitians require visas for more countries than any other nationality in the Western Hemisphere. For this reason, many opt for unauthorized migration.

InSight Crime Analysis

Increasingly, Haitian refugees put their faith in the hands of maritime smuggling networks who prioritize maximizing profits over the safety of human lives.

These networks charge exorbitant sums of money for transport on boats that are typically overcrowded, which can increase the likelihood of deadly accidents. 

Survivors of the July 24 tragedy paid between $3,000 and $8,000 each for the journey, Bahamian Immigration Minister Keith Bell said at a press conference. The smugglers, typically loading boats with dozens of people, earn thousands of dollars per trip, regardless of whether the journey is completed successfully.

These huge sums are often paid by relatives already residing in the United States, as over half of Haiti’s population gets by on less than $3.2 a day, according to the World Bank.

SEE ALSO: Clashes Between Cuba's Coast Guard and Human Smugglers Turning Increasingly Violent

Migrants are not always aware of the high risks involved in unauthorized migration.

“These criminals make you feel safe. They tell you that in three or four hours you will be in Miami from the Bahamas, that it will be a good boat, they tell you that there are only a few people [on the boat]… that you will have a life jacket. It's all a lie,” Juan Esteban Montoya, a Colombian migrant and sole survivor of an overcrowded boat that capsized on its way from the Bahamas to Florida in January 2022, told Semana. 

The Haiti–Bahamas–United States maritime route has likely been in use since the 1970s, and the US Coast Guard has interdicted smuggling vessels carrying Haitians since 1981.

Though US restrictions reduced migrant numbers in years past, the route is now frequently transited once more - a report published in May by MPI found that the US Coast Guard interdicted more Haitians at sea in the first seven months of fiscal year 2022 than during any previous fiscal year since 1994. The 4,400 maritime interdictions accounted for almost 20 percent of Haitians' attempts to enter the United States unauthorized.

The renewed popularity of the sea route is partly caused by a general increase in demand for smuggling services out of Haiti in response to its crises and limited legal options, MPI reported

For those still in Haiti, the land route via Mexico to the US is often not a viable option. Since March 2020, at least 19,000 Haitians who have tried to cross into the US from Mexico have been sent back to Haiti. In a 2022 survey by the International Organization for Migration, 84 percent of expelled Haitians said they’d try to migrate again. Some of them might turn to maritime routes, MPI concluded.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

CARIBBEAN / 21 JAN 2014

Entering the Tivoli Gardens ghetto in West Kingston, scars of the battle to arrest Jamaica's most infamous criminal kingpin, Christopher…

ARMS TRAFFICKING / 16 MAR 2017

The government of Jamaica has announced a rise in seizures of illegal weapons as part of a long-running gun control…

CARIBBEAN / 25 APR 2017

Authorities say the majority of some 20 gang members detained in the Bronx neighborhood of New York City last…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela’s Tren de Aragua Becomes Truly Transnational

29 JUL 2022

This week, InSight Crime published a deep dive into the total control that Venezuelan mega-gang, Tren de Aragua, has over the lives of those it smuggles between Venezuela and Chile…

THE ORGANIZATION

Turkish Traffickers Delivering Latin American Cocaine to Persian Gulf

15 JUL 2022

Last week, InSight Crime published the second half of an investigation piecing together the emerging role of Turkish cocaine traffickers in supplying Russia and the Persian Gulf, which are among…

THE ORGANIZATION

Turkey as a Lynchpin in European Cocaine Pipeline

8 JUL 2022

InSight Crime is extending its investigation into the cocaine pipeline to Europe, and tracking the growing connections between Latin American drug traffickers and European criminal organizations. This led us to…

THE ORGANIZATION

Memo Fantasma Coverage Gets Worldwide Attention

1 JUL 2022

Guillermo Acevedo, the former Colombian drug lord and paramilitary commander better known as Memo Fantasma, may soon be allowed to leave prison. Since first revealing the identity of Memo Fantasma…

THE ORGANIZATION

Who Are Memo Fantasma and Sergio Roberto de Carvalho?

24 JUN 2022

Inside the criminal career of Memo Fantasma  In March 2020, InSight Crime revealed the identity and whereabouts of Memo Fantasma, a paramilitary commander and drug trafficker living in…