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Bahamas Returns Haitian Migrants While Solution to Prevent Future Tragedies Remains Elusive

haitians in bahamasIn the wake of the latest boat tragedy off the coast of the Bahamas, authorities there are seeking solutions to stem the flow of Haitian migrants.

Survivors from a rickety wooden sailboat, which ran aground last week while ferrying undocumented Haitian migrants through the Bahamas, are scheduled to be repatriated to Haiti on Tuesday, Bahamian officials said. At least 30 Haitians died in the tragedy.

The 111 survivors are among 342 Haitians who will be flown on three chartered Bahamasair flights to Port-au-Prince, pending receipt of landing permits from the Haitian government. The group also includes 56 stranded Haitians who were rescued from a small cay north of the capsized boat.

The latest repatriations come as the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos and the United States all report spikes in the past year in Haitian migrants trying to make it to their shores, and as immigration and humanitarian experts try to find solutions to curb the dangerous tide.

Two weeks ago, the International Organization for Migration submitted a proposal to Haiti’s Interior Ministry to create income-generating opportunities along the country’s impoverished north coast. The two-year, $4.5 million program would provide grants to help Haitians start small businesses in hopes of discouraging them from leaving on boats, and encouraging those living illegally in the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos to return, said Drazan Rozic, an IOM program manager.

But Rozic concedes that even if the Haitian government makes the program a priority — which he hopes – it will depend on international donor support. Just recently, the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration opted not to renew a $2.6 million grant to IOM for a program that reintegrated Haitians intercepted at sea and returned to the north. The program, which sought to address the root causes of high migration flows, ended in October after funds ran out.

An August 2011 IOM survey found that the main reasons for the migrations were poverty and unemployment, coupled with lack of opportunities to improve the quality of life, Rozic said.

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