The Bahamas has a prosperous tourism-led economy. The standard of life here is relatively high for a developing country.
Haiti, our neighbor to the south, is the poorest country in the hemisphere. Its people flee however they can and to wherever they can to find work, food, shelter and hope.
The Bahamas is a destination and a transit point. Many settle here keen to work. Others use this country as a stop to get to the United States.
Last week off Abaco, a boat authorities suspect was carrying 83 migrants ran aground and sank. Thirty-one bodies were recovered. Nine were in such poor condition they did not make it to New Providence. They were buried in Abaco.
Yesterday the bodies of 22 victims arrived in coffins, strapped to a flatbed truck, and draped in Haitian flags.
Onlookers cried in despair as they were unloaded, one by one, and carried into Enoch Backford Auditorium in New Providence for a funeral service. Mourners filled the building.
“In searching for a better life, they found death,” said Francois J. Michel, the Haitian charge d’affaires, yesterday.
There was a common and wise message throughout the service. The risky decision to leave Haiti for The Bahamas by boat was criticized.
Speakers urged the congregation to discourage those in Haiti from taking dangerous journeys to enter this country illegally.
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.”
While this is a known tragedy, countless unknown deaths occur each year in dangerous smuggling missions.
While we understand the desperation in Haiti, it is important for Haitians who live here to dissuade their relatives from trying to migrate in such a dangerous manner. It’s expensive and life threatening. Anecdotally, we hear smugglers charge $2,000 to $3,000 per person.
Many who make it to land end up apprehended by immigration officials in The Bahamas, too. The risks of death and wasting money – for poor people – are high.
Law enforcement has pledged this time to go after those who were involved in smuggling these people. Human smuggling prosecutions are rare in this country. We hope they are serious. There should be a consequence for causing the deaths of 31 to 65 people.
Haitians will continue to come here in large numbers until the circumstances in Haiti improve. But if their friends and relatives here heed the words of those who spoke out at the funeral, some lives may be saved by convincing those in Haiti to find another, safer way to migrate from their troubled homeland.