HAVANA (Reuters) – Bahamian and Cuban authorities have intercepted hundreds of Haitians at sea seeking to reach the United States, and will repatriate them to Haiti, they said.
The Royal Bahamas Defence Force said it had deployed patrol vessels to the southeast Bahamas to defend against a “migrant surge” from Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, which is grappling with a deepening humanitarian and political crisis.
Those vessels had intercepted more than 1,000 Haitians over the past ten days, said the Defence Force, posting photos this week on its Facebook page of small, crowded sailboats.
“The Royal Bahamas Defence Force is once again urging individuals to refrain from making long treacherous voyages on hazardous vessels, and in the process, risking the lives of many individuals,” it said.
Cuba’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday an unspecified number of Haitian migrants had also arrived via boat on the coasts of its eastern and central provinces in recent weeks in a bid to reach Florida.
Both Cuba and the Bahamas said they would be repatriating the migrants to Haiti. The Royal Bahamas Defence Force said that repatriation was expected to commence on Thursday.
Earlier this month, President Luis Abinader of the Dominican Republic, which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with Haiti, told the United Nations General Assembly that Haiti was “already becoming a regional problem.”
Around 30,000 Haitians arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent weeks, seeking to claim asylum in the United States. U.S. authorities have expelled around 5,000 back to Haiti.
The nation of around 11 million was already facing soaring gang crime and hunger and a political crisis before the assassination of the president and a major earthquake hit over the summer.
Former U.S. special envoy to Haiti Daniel Foote said the “collapsed state” was unable to support the infusion of returning migrants and resigned last week.
Communist-run Cuba’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday there was a “need to work for a secure, orderly and regular migration” and said the root cause – “an unjust international order and prevailing inequality” – must first be dealt with.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana; Additional reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York and Gessika Thomas in Port-au-Prince, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)