Haitian migrant influx strains Bahamas
The development also worries U.S. officials, who fear it might be a forerunner
of a new surge
of Haitians trying to get into the United States to escape their nation's dismal economy and
Bahamian authorities estimate 60,000 Haitians are living illegally here
among the island chain's
360,000 citizens. The military, which has increased patrols at sea, says 4,220 Haitians were
caught last year -- the highest number in a decade and nearly 50 percent more than were
stopped in 2001.
Over the years, some Bahamians welcomed the Haitians as a source of cheap
labor, but there
is a growing chorus demanding that the government crack down and send the migrants back
"They use our hospitals, our social system, they clog up our schools and
take away from
Bahamians," said Theodore Roberts, a 31-year-old technician. "They just keep coming and don't
give back anything."
Officials say a third of public-school students are children of Haitian
migrants and seven of 10
maternity patients are Haitian.
Fearing an exodus like that in the 1990s, when Haitians were fleeing a
dictatorship, the United States is helping the Bahamas with increased aid and U.S. Coast Guard
"When Haitian immigration picks up in the Bahamas, it picks up in the United
States, too," said a
U.S. Embassy spokesman, Brian Bachman.
Bahamian officials say Washington needs to provide more help.
"Migration is everybody's business," said Immigration Minister Vincent
Peet. "We don't think the
world should allow the Bahamas to deal with this by itself."
Most Haitian migrants leave from their country's barren north, paying smugglers
$500 to $5,000
(U.S. currency) for passage to the Bahamas. The journeys are usually made in rickety
homemade boats that sometimes capsize. It's not known how many have died trying to escape.
In November, the bodies of four men believed to be Haitian migrants were
found floating in
Nassau harbor, near the dock where cruise ship tourists shop in duty-free stores. Some
migrants are abandoned on one of the Bahamas' more than 700 uninhabited islands, where
they stay with no water or food until someone finds them, dead or alive.
Those who make it to land undetected endure poverty not that different
from Haiti, squeezed
into ramshackle villages without running water or electricity on the outskirts of Nassau and
several small docks.
In one shantytown, residents said they are in constant fear of police raids.
The poorly dressed
Creole speakers are easy to spot in this relatively wealthy English-speaking country.
"If the police catch us, they'll rob us," said Raymond Marcellin, 28, flashing
a large gash in his
palm, an injury he said he got from a fall while running from the police.
"People here don't respect Haitians," he said.
The Haitians live in hope of earning enough to pay for a trip to the United
States. They take jobs
not wanted by educated Bahamians, such as gardening, cleaning hotels and homes and
laboring in construction.
The Bahamas repatriated more than 3,000 Haitian migrants last year, at
a cost of over $1 million
, but despite the growing public complaints the government has no plans to deport large
"It's a failed policy because it has not stemmed the tide," Foreign Affairs
Minister Fred Mitchell
said of deportations.
He said officials are exploring new ways to tackle the problem, such as
granting guest worker
visas and forging closer ties with the Haitian government.
Most people concede Haitian migrants will keep coming as long as Haiti's problems persist.
"There is a lot of misery," said Louis Joseph, Haiti's ambassador to the
Bahamas. "When people
are suffering, they'll leave any way they can."
In a Nassau detention center, Pierre Joseph sits in a pink tank top and
orange swim trunks,
waiting for word on when he'll be sent home.
During a five-day, 100-mile journey, he and seven other men endured a storm
that nearly tore
apart their homemade sloop. When a Bahamian Defense Force boat stopped them near shore,
all were limp from dehydration, heat exhaustion and seasickness.
"I wasn't afraid to die because I knew I had to leave," said Joseph, a
27-year-old potato farmer.
"There's no hope in Haiti."
Copyright 2003 The Associated Press.