Thursday, December 7, 2023

21 Century Slavery. Human Trafficking. Caribbean Island Nations. July 29, 2023

Dreams and Deadly Seas

By Samantha Schmid

Paulina Villegas   and   Hannah Dormido 

July 27 at 8:00 a.m.

NASSAU, Bahamas — By day, Jet Ski operators zip through the turquoise waters around Arawak Cay, where tourists dine on conch salads from brightly painted wooden shacks.


But by night, inky blue waves become a covert gateway through the vast Caribbean to the United States.


It was here that a 33-foot boat named Bare Ambition set out after midnight one day last summer. It slid away from a rocky beach hidden behind a dilapidated former nightclub known as the Sand Trap, which sat beside a brothel and a block from a building once operated by the U.S. Embassy.


The boat, described by an investigator as a “pleasure craft,” was supposed to carry only 20 people. Instead, dozens of Haitians huddled together on board. Some had spent years living in the Bahamas. Others were recent arrivals. All hoped to reach the promised land for thousands of migrants crossing these waters: Florida.


The Bare Ambition didn’t get far. Battered by rough waters about six miles from the harbor, it began to take on water. In the darkness and panic, some on board began spilling over the sides of the boat and into the sea. Others were trapped inside. No one wore a life jacket.

At about 1:30 a.m. on July 24, 2022, Royal Bahamas Defense Force rescuers arrived to find about a dozen men sitting on top of the mostly submerged vessel. Other people were flailing in the water around them.


Authorities heard knocking from the hull. Inside, they found a woman who had survived in an air pocket.


At least 17 Haitians died that morning — a man, 15 women and a little girl. It was the worst loss of life in Bahamian waters in years.


This island nation has stepped up patrols to confront a record surge in migration to and from its many shores. Its prime minister has declared that “the Bahamas is for Bahamians.”

The country apprehended 3,605 migrants in 2022, more than in the previous three calendar years combined, according to the Royal Bahamas Defense Force. More than three-quarters of them were Haitian.


So far this year, Bahamian authorities have apprehended 1,736 migrants, 1,281 of them Haitian.


The United States also has increased enforcement. Coast Guard cutters have been rescuing migrants from foundering or overcrowded boats every few days and sending them back to their home countries.


To discourage irregular migration, the Biden administration has set up a system for foreigners to apply for asylum online, while turning back those who have not.


None of those measures have stopped the perilous journeys.

Only 25 people were rescued on that morning last summer.


Authorities laid the bodies of the dead facedown on a tarp and took photos. One of those images reached the cellphone of Lenise Georges as she sat in a Nassau church pew and listened to Sunday services.


There, on WhatsApp, was the body of her 43-year-old sister, Altanie Ivoy, a mother of three, in a pink zigzag shirt. Georges recognized her back and the shape of her arm, the elbow she’d known since they were children.


Next to her, wearing red polka-dot pants, was Ivoy’s 1-year-old daughter Kourtney, who had just begun to say her first words. She was the only child on the boat


For centuries, the Bahamas has been a smuggler’s paradise.


The islands were a haven for pirates plundering gold in the 1600s, rum runners bootlegging liquor during Prohibition and “Cocaine Cowboys” ferrying drugs into Florida in the 1980s.

Now the smugglers are moving people.


As one put it: “All that changed was the cargo.”


The Commonwealth’s 700 islands, porous borders and proximity to the United States have for decades made it both a destination and a transit point for migrants, predominantly Haitians.

Ongoing chaos and violence in Haiti and a crippling economic crisis in Cuba are powering a new surge of people who try to slip into Florida by sea.


It’s no longer only people from the Caribbean who use this route to make a run for the United States. With its relatively lenient visa requirements, the Bahamas now draws migrants of means from around the world, from as far away as China, Cameroon and Iraq.

They buy a plane ticket, land on an island and look for a boat......






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