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US Coast Guard sends back to Haiti nearly 200 migrants rescued at sea

In a photo posted to Twitter by U.S. Coast Guard Southeast, a boat the U.S. Coast Guard said carried 189 Haitians in bad weather Saturday, March 19, 2022. (U.S. Coast Guard Southeast/TNS)

Nearly 200 migrants were returned to Haiti on Tuesday after being picked up near the Caribbean nation’s coastline, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

The repatriation is one of the latest interventions U.S. border authorities in South Florida have carried out as thousands of Haitians and Cubans take to the sea to escape their home countries in turmoil.

On Saturday, the Coast Guard announced on Twitter that two cutters had rescued the large group of Haitians on an overloaded boat in a flurry of bad weather.

The group, which included 126 men, 45 women and 17 children, was found some 20 miles from Cap Du Mole, on Haiti’s northern coast.

Rear Adm. Brendan McPherson, from the Coast Guard office in Miami that patrols Florida, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, emphasized that the illegal voyages were “always dangerous” and “often deadly.”

“We have increased our air and sea patrols across the region in close coordination with our interagency and international partners,” he said in a statement.

Since Oct. 1, the U.S. Coast Guard has intercepted 2,284 Haitian migrants, an increase of almost 50% compared to the entire 2022 fiscal year, which runs from October to September. In that same period, it has interdicted 1,053 Cuban migrants, up from the 838 in fiscal 2021.

In recent months, the Florida Keys have been a principal landing spot for Cuban and Haitian migrants, many smuggled by human traffickers. On March 14, more than 100 Haitian migrants arrived in a residential area in Summerland Key, near Key West. The landing followed another a week before that brought 356 Haitian migrants to Key Largo. On Monday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it had apprehended about two dozen other migrants, made up of two groups of Cuban migrants that landed in the Marquesas Keys and Big Pine Key.

The surge of migrants has also affected Puerto Rico, which is seeing more and more Haitian migrants landing on its shores. As of mid-March, the US Coast Guard, Border Patrol, and the Puerto Rican Police Department had apprehended 571 undocumented Haitian migrants in Puerto Rico — the top nationality to be intercepted in the American territory by authorities this fiscal year and surpassing migrant arrivals from the Dominican Republic.

The majority have landed on Mona Island, a Puerto Rican nature reserve between Puerto Rico and Hispaniola, the landmass shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti; 188 Haitians have made landfall on mainland Puerto Rico, in the western towns of Aguada, Añasco, Rincón, and Cabo Rojo.

Marleine Bastien, a Haitian advocate and founder of Family Action Network Movement in Miami, said the Biden administration should end deportations to Haiti, as the nation faces gang violence, political instability and destruction from earthquakes.

“It is human nature to try to find security,” she told the Miami Herald. “Haiti is a country at war right now.”

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© 2022 Miami Herald
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