By Taneka Thompson
Nassau Guardian Senior Reporter
NASSAU, Bahamas -- Authorities in The Bahamas rounded up more than 180 illegal Haitian immigrants after their wooden sloop ran aground near Mangrove Cay in Andros amid bad weather caused by Tropical Storm Isaac on Saturday, Director of Immigration Jack Thompson said on Sunday.
Officials think a few dozen more immigrants were unaccounted for. However, up to press time there were no reported deaths nor were any bodies recovered.
Thompson said a team of Defence Force and immigration officers did an aerial and ground search of the area for survivors and bodies yesterday.
At last count, 181 immigrants were being housed at two temporary holding centres in Andros, at the Mangrove Cay Catholic Centre and a warehouse near the island’s loading dock, Thompson said.
He said one of the immigrants estimated that as many as 200 Haitians crowded onto the sloop and made the seven-day journey from Cap Haitien to Andros.
“It is safe to say that they [the remaining immigrants] are unaccounted for,” Thompson said, adding that it was too early to say if any had drowned.
He told The Nassau Guardian that the immigrants reportedly left Haiti on August 18 but it was unclear if The Bahamas was their final destination.
Immigration officials suspect the Haitians paid to be smuggled out of Haiti but authorities had not been able to identify the boat’s captain.
“I don’t know if that was a part of the interview [process] but more often that not it’s a fee; it’s not a free ride, it’s a fee that they pay,” he told The Nassau Guardian.
“Every time we have this sort of thing the people say they pay to come because they are told they are going [to] this place or that place.”
The immigrants all appeared to be in good health, although a few showed signs of exhaustion and dehydration, the director said.
He said officials on the island – who were dealing with bad weather — were scrambling to find food, water and clothing for the immigrants.
“You can imagine that one or two of them would be a little exhausted because it was a seven-day journey and those vessels, I’m not sure what their food supply and water supply is like, so it goes without saying that in instances like this the first priority is to give them something hot to eat and to give them lots of water because sometimes they are exhausted, dehydrated as a result of the long voyage,” Thompson said.
“They (officials) are trying to make sure the people are safe given the weather conditions and then they are also trying to as they come across these people make sure they are examined by the medical authorities then they are trying to provide some food for them and then they are also trying to give them clothing and shelter.
“It’s quite a task for a small community like that.”
Eighty-three immigrants were found on Saturday around 6 pm at Lisbon Creek where they sought refuge, a statement from the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said.
By Sunday afternoon the number of apprehended immigrants grew to 181.
Although he did not have an exact gender breakdown, Thompson said more than 100 of them were men and a few dozen were women.
He could not say if any children were onboard the boat.
NEMA issued a hurricane watch for Andros on Saturday as winds over 73-miles-per hour were expected.
The United States Coast Guard used one of its helicopters to transport two Royal Bahamas Defence Force marines and two immigration officers to Mangrove Cay to assist in the exercise, NEMA said.
Republished with permission of the Nassau Guardian