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Scope of Abaco migrant tragedy expands

Haitian survivors rescued after the sloop they were in ran aground off Abaco. FILE

Authorities yesterday found another body suspected to be from a Haitian sloop that ran aground in waters off Abaco on Saturday. That discovery brought the death toll to 30.

Immigration officials said the body was discovered around 1:30 p.m. after it washed ashore near the cemetery at Man-O-War Cay. Eighteen people have been rescued thus far.

The scope of this tragedy may be far greater, however. According to police reports, the vessel was carrying approximately 83 people, 76 males and seven females. If that figure is accurate, 35 people are missing. They could have perished. Maybe some or all made it to land. The worst-case scenario is that around 65 people died.

A multi-agency Bahamian government team is assisting the survivors. The Haitian Embassy has taken the lead in burying the deceased.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Haitians flee in the tens of thousands each year to find new lives and hope. Thousands come to The Bahamas, brought mostly by human traffickers who charge thousands of dollars per person. This ill-fated voyage is a suspected human trafficking operation.

Prosecutions for human smuggling are rare in The Bahamas. Authorities say it is difficult to charge smugglers. No one speaks when migrants are captured. They fear for their safety and that of their families in Haiti if they give up the people involved in the trade. The smugglers are brutal.

Law enforcement has pledged this time to go after those involved. We hope they are serious. There should be a consequence for causing the deaths of 30 to 65 people.

We hope a full and proper investigation is conducted. In high-profile cases police sometimes rush to charge to assuage the public. Consequently, the evidence is poor and convictions are elusive when these matters go to court.

Police should also go further than just trying to find out who were the vessel’s captain and crew – if they survived. Assuming Abaco was the destination for this voyage, police should seek to find out if there is an on-land network connected to the smugglers. All involved with this death trip should be prosecuted.

Haitians will continue to come here in large numbers on boats until the circumstances in Haiti improve. They are doing what we would do if our country were in a state of collapse.

We must use the threat of stern punishment to make smugglers question whether it is worth pursuing the trade in The Bahamas.

We have for too long just accepted that it is too difficult to identify smugglers. We must try harder. Our lax attitude has emboldened these criminals.

If we do not become more aggressive in punishing those who profit from human misery, more of these mass tragedies will happen with greater frequency.

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