Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Bahamas to Return Migrants to Quake-Ravaged Haiti

By MIKE MELIA, The Associated Press

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- More than five dozen Haitian migrants detained as they sailed north through the Bahamas will be returned directly to the earthquake-ravaged country, the Bahamian prime minister said Monday.

Two Royal Bahamas Defense Force vessels intercepted a boat carrying the 62 Haitians on Saturday, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said.

While the Bahamas has made it easier for Haitian immigrants already in the country to stay since the earthquake, Ingraham said the government will not change its policy toward undocumented migrants found at sea.

"We will do all we can to assist Haiti except we cannot absorb Haiti's population in the Bahamas," Ingraham told The Associated Press.

The Jan. 12 earthquake has raised fears of mass migration from the desperately poor country south of the Bahamas. Since then, fleeing Haitian migrants have been stopped on two vessels in the Bahamas and another in the nearby Turks and Caicos Islands.

The issue is particularly sensitive in the Bahamas, an archipelago of 330,000 people off the Florida coast that Ingraham says has a higher percentage of Haitian migrants than any other country.

The government has taken some steps to ease Haiti's burden: It released 102 detained Haitians awaiting repatriation before the earthquake, granting them temporary status for six months, and has stopped apprehending undocumented Haitians for now, the prime minister said.

A larger Defense Force boat was being sent to pick up the newest migrants and return them to Haiti, Ingraham said.

He said that if the government encounters migrant vessels that are seaworthy in the future, Bahamian ships will turn them back and escort them to Haiti. U.S. Coast Guard ships will also be available to repatriate migrants if needed, said guard spokesman Mike Lutz in Miami.

The Coast Guard has not intercepted any migrant vessels leaving Haiti, Lutz said.

Source: WashingtonPost

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