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At least 17 Haitian migrants died Sunday after their boat capsized off the Bahamas. The boat, which capsized 7 miles off New Providence, is believed to have been part of a suspected human smuggling operation headed to Florida.
“We mourn lives lost of those seeking a better way of life. Those here with families and friends in Haiti, encourage your loved ones not to risk their lives,” Bahamas’ labor and immigration minister, Keith Bell, in a statement to the press.
Officials confirmed that of the bodies rescued from the choppy waters by the Royal Bahamas Police Force and the Royal Bahamas Defense Force, 15 were male. The body of a female and one infant were also recovered. Authorities rescued 25 speedboat passengers.
Police say that two of those rescued, Bahamian citizens, will be questioned as part of an investigation into the possible involvement of local smugglers. Passengers told police they paid between $3,000 and $8,000 to travel on the boat.
As many as 60 passengers were believed to have traveled on the boat. Authorities are still searching for the missing.
“We take this opportunity to strongly condemn the organization of smuggling operations which risk human life and compromise our national security. Those found to be involved will face prosecution,” Bell said. “I understand the situation that many of these migrants face that would encourage them to take such great risk. We, however appeal to those considering making such a voyage, not to.”
Haiti has been rocked by a series of natural disasters over recent years. Things took a turn for the worse after the assassination of former President Jovenel Moïse last July. There has since been a spike in kidnappings and gang violence, but the U.S. is doing little to help.
Since September, more than 25,000 Haitians have been detained and returned to Haiti.