The Miami Herald
November 29, 2001

 200 Haitian migrants presumed dead


 More than 200 Haitian migrants attempting to reach Florida in two rickety boats earlier this month are presumed drowned, a Haitian government official said Wednesday.

 Esperand Dominique, a regional director of social affairs for the Haitian government, said family members have not heard from two groups of Haitian migrants who left Ile-a-Vache island off Haiti's south coast.

 The first boat with some 150 Haitians aboard left Nov. 1, while the second, with 63 migrants aboard, departed the next day. Hurricane Michelle hit Cuba and the Bahamas a few days later, passing south of Florida. The boats may have capsized in the turbulent seas, Dominique said. ``Their families have abandoned hope.''

 If the boats did sink, it would be one of the worst Haitian migrant tragedies at sea in recent years. In 1992, some 380 Haitian migrants died when the freighter Vierge
 Miracle sank off Cuba.

 Jean Mesidor, of Maryland, said he received word from his parents in Haiti that he had 15 relatives on board the second boat that left from Ile-a-Vache, including his brother Junior.

 ``My parents did not want him to leave. When they heard he had left, they called me,'' Mesidor said.

 Mesidor said he also has heard unconfirmed reports that some of the migrants are in Jamaica, so he doesn't know what to believe. Jamaican immigration officials could not immediately be reached.

 Haitian community activist Marleine Bastien, who made a plea on Haitian radio for family members of the missing to come forward, said she has not heard from anyone.

 ``If we had more information we could go to the Coast Guard and say we have this,'' Bastien said. ``Without any details, it's very difficult.''

 Bastien and Bahamian immigration officials say more migrants are likely. Because of the post-terror attack economic recession, relatives in the United States are less
 able to send money to family in Haiti and other islands.

 This report was supplemented with information from The Associated Press.

                                    © 2001