NASSAU, Bahamas, Feb 18, CMC – Bahamas law enforcement authorities say they have detained a vessel carrying more than 60 illegal Haitian immigrants on board.
The Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) said the vessel was intercepted on Sunday, 10 nautical miles west of Hawksbill Cay in the Exuma chain with about 64 undocumented Haitian nationals on board.
It said the operation involved members of the Royal Bahamas Police Force, Operation Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands (OPBAT), the US Coast Guard, and concerned citizens over several days after it had originally received received information concerning the whereabouts of a migrant smuggling vessel in the southern Bahamas.
The vessel–a wooden sloop–was seen by a civilian pilot in the area of Scrub Cays near the Tongue of the Ocean, west of the Exuma chain on Saturday and a more extensive search was then coordinated by the Defence Force with the assistance of the Police Force aircraft and an OPBAT aircraft.
The RBDF said that the undocumented migrants will be transported to Nassau where they will be handed over to Police and Immigration officials for further processing.
A few days ago, the Bahamas government said it has temporarily ceased all deportations to Haiti as a result of the political unrest in that French-speaking Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country.
“The decision follows the temporary closure of The Bahamas Embassy in Port-au-Prince and the recall of all diplomatic and consular staff,” the government said in a statement, adding that in anticipation of a potential increase of illegal migration from Haiti, Bahamian security forces have been placed on high alert.
“As a protective measure, the Government is also preparing a temporary detention center in Matthew Town, Inagua, which will be staffed with personnel from relevant ministries and government agencies, as to deal with any resultant eventualities.”
Bahamian officials have in the past called on Haitians not to undertake the dangerous voyage by sea to enter the country illegally. Earlier this month, 31 Haitians drowned when their vessel ran aground in waters off Abaco. The authorities said 18 others who had been rescued would be deported.
“The RBDF said that a temporary holding facility will also be set up by the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency in conjunction with The Bahamas Immigration Department and the Royal Bahamas Defence in the southern Bahamas in the event of an increase.
The RBDF said that so far this year, it has apprehended or assisted in apprehending a total of 207 Haitian nationals. Last year, the Defence apprehended or assisted in apprehending 1,172 Haitians.