They came looking for a better life, but instead their mortal remains will rest in a foreign land.
Yesterday, the bodies of 22 Haitians who died in waters off Abaco when their sloop ran aground just over a week ago, arrived in coffins, strapped to a flatbed truck and draped in Haitian flags.
Residents of the local Haitian community wailed as they were unloaded, one by one, and carried into Enoch Backford Auditorium on Carmichael Road for a funeral service.
Thirty-one bodies were recovered after the tragedy. Nine were in such poor condition that they did not make it to New Providence, and were instead buried in Abaco, authorities said.
Others are believed to have gone down in a watery grave.
Mourners packed the auditorium. When the seats were full, they spilled over into the aisles and crowded in the back near the doors.
“In searching for a better life, they found death,” said Francois J. Michel, the Haitian charge d’affaires, yesterday.
Against the backdrop of the 22 coffins lined off in the front of the room, the Haitian national anthem played and the cries from the congregation became deafening.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and Haitians have been migrating to The Bahamas illegally for decades.
The issue is not only old, but also controversial, and a cause of significant tension in the country.
Yet as the Haitian and Bahamian flags stood next to each other in a room full of grief, the congregation was reminded that humanity transcends nationality.
“There is no Haitian people. There is no Bahamian people. We are all God’s people,” said Edgburt Tinker, president of the Abaco Christian Council.
The risky decision to leave Haiti for The Bahamas by boat, however, was roundly criticized at the funeral.
Speakers urged the congregation to discourage those in Haiti from taking dangerous journeys in attempts to illegally enter The Bahamas.
Herns Mesamours from the Haitian Embassy said plainly, “Everyone must submit to the laws and authority of The Bahamas… The Haitian Embassy is not here to encourage any illegal migration to The Bahamas.”
Bishop Simeon Hall said, “To be poor and destitute [in Haiti] is still far better than to be dead and gone.”
After the last hymn, the coffins were carried out of the building, loaded back onto the flatbed truck and transported to Southern Cemetery on Cowpen Road for burial.
There the wailing continued as a large crowd watched the coffins be lowered into the ground. Some laid flowers; others sang a Creole hymn in a final tribute to those who lost their lives in a desperate attempt at bettering them.