UNHCR expresses concern over deaths at sea in the Caribbean

News Stories, 28 November 2013

© AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard
An aerial photo of Haitian migrants clinging to the hull of the capsized boat near Staniel Cay in the Bahamas. The image was taken from video made available by the U.S. Coastguard.

WASHINGTON, DC, United States, November 28 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has expressed concern at the recent deaths at sea following a boat capsize earlier this week in the Bahamas, the third maritime tragedy in the northern Caribbean since October. This week's incident cost the lives of up to 30 people, believed to be nationals of Haiti. Also on the boat were at least 110 other individuals, including 19 women, who were rescued by the Bahamas military and police alongside the U.S. Coast Guard. This week's tragedy follows two similar incidents in the northern Caribbean in October. One, off the shores of Florida, resulted in the drowning of four persons, while another, in the sea passage between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, resulted in the deaths of 12 persons with an estimated 39 people missing at sea. Among those who lost their lives in these tragedies were men, women and children from Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba and Jamaica. "While we mourn these senseless deaths, we also recognize the courage and commitment of the authorities for rescuing the survivors and bringing them to safety," said Shelly Pitterman, UNHCR's Regional Representative in Washington, DC. "In this hemisphere and globally, we have seen increasing numbers of desperate people fleeing dire levels of economic deprivation or escaping political turmoil and violence by taking to the high seas in search of safety or a better future," Pitterman said. In the past two months, hundreds of migrants and refugees, including Syrians and Palestinians, have been rescued in the Mediterranean Sea with many missing and feared drowned off the Italian island of Lampedusa. Earlier this month UNHCR also expressed concern over reports that people were setting out to sea in smugglers' boats from the Bay of Bengal in search of a better life, free from persecution. The deaths at sea in the northern Caribbean highlight this alarming global trend. The most recent tragedy brings the number of reported deaths or missing at sea in the northern Caribbean to 81 this year. Since the start of 2013, UNHCR has recorded 128 maritime incidents in the region involving at least 4,281 persons who have been intercepted or rescued at sea. This represents a significant rise as compared to last year, when there were an estimated 2,600 persons involved in reported maritime incidents in the region. In May, UNHCR together with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and 19 governments in the Caribbean region convened a conference on mixed migration and international protection to discuss challenges and solutions. UNHCR continues to urge all countries involved in interdiction and rescue at sea to put in place adequate measures to identify those persons who may be refugees or have other protection needs. UNHCR also urges donor countries and civil society organizations to strengthen their engagement in mixed migration issues in the Caribbean in order to improve humanitarian responses and prevent further loss of life.

By Brian Hansford in Washington, DC., USA