At least 10 Haitian migrants died when their boat sank off the coast of the Turks and Caicos Islands, officials said Monday.
Rescue services managed to save 14 people when the boat went down Sunday in shark-infested waters off the archipelago, which is just southeast of the Bahamas and some 200 kilometers (120 miles) north of Haiti.
Police said there was little hope of finding any more survivors.
The authorities “are not yet in a position to say exactly how many people were on the boat. However, 10 lifeless bodies were found,” rescue officials said in a statement.
With Haiti suffering from extreme poverty, and with 60 percent of the population living on less than two dollars a day, many desperate people try to make it by boat to the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos, which is a British overseas territory.
Around 40 migrants disappeared in a shipwreck last October off the Bahamas coast. Only nine people survived.
Tens of thousands of young Haitians, unable to find work at home, have made the hazardous journey to countries in North and South America, in particular to Chile and Brazil, where securing a visa was considered to be easiest.
In the past four years, approximately 165,000 Haitians have moved to Chile, prompting the government in Santiago to introduce entry visas in April last year to stem the flow of migrants.
The death toll from the earthquake that struck northwest Haiti over the weekend has risen to 17, with nearly 350 others injured, the interior ministry said Tuesday.
Nine people were killed in the coastal city of Port-de-Paix, the closest major town to the quake’s epicentre.
Seven more died in Gros-Morne, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) to the southeast and one was killed in the city of Saint-Louis du Nord, the ministry said.
Emergency personnel deployed to the quake zone have said roughly 7,800 homes were either destroyed or damaged in the 5.9-magnitude tremor, according to the authorities.
In Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, building codes are often not respected, meaning that an earthquake of even a moderate size can result in fatalities and level buildings.
The country’s Nord-Ouest department, where Port-de-Paix is located, is the worst-off part of Haiti, with many areas isolated due to the dire state of the roads.
The quake and several aftershocks were felt as far away as the capital Port-au-Prince, sparking fear among residents still reeling from the massive 2010 earthquake that left at least 200,000 people dead.
Haiti’s Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant on Saturday announced the suspension “until further notice” of an unpopular fuel price hike that triggered violent protests in the Caribbean nation.
The capital Port-au-Prince and its environs had stood paralyzed since Friday afternoon, with major routes blocked by barricades, some made of burning tires, and some protesters even calling for a revolution in the impoverished country.
Just before the suspension was announced, the leader of Haiti’s lower house of parliament had threatened a government takeover if the fuel price increases were not reversed.
“If there is no response within two hours, the government will be considered as having resigned” and the legislature will take charge, Gary Bodeau, the president of the Chamber of Deputies, told AFP.
Lafontant then announced the suspension of the price hike decision on Twitter, writing that “violence and democracy are fundamentally incompatible.”
At least one person died in violence overnight Friday, and an AFP reporter heard the sound of sporadic gunfire in the capital. Shop and car windows in some affluent districts were broken.
Similar angry protests broke out in Cap-Haitien, the second-largest city, as well as in the communes of Les Cayes, Jacmel and Petit-Goave.
‘Do not destroy’
The troubles were sparked by a government announcement that gasoline prices would rise by 38 per cent, diesel by 47 per cent and kerosene by 51 per cent starting this weekend.
Many service stations suspended operations because station operators said they did not want to provide gas that could be used to set fires or to be targeted by demonstrators. Angry protesters reportedly tried to torch at least one station before police intervened.
The protests prompted several major airlines, including American, Air France, Delta, Jet Blue and Copa, to cancel flights to Port-au-Prince, at least through mid-day Saturday.
The demonstrations drew an impassioned plea by Lafontant for calm.
“I ask your patience because our administration has a vision, a clear program,” he said. “Do not destroy, because every time it’s Haiti that becomes poorer.”
“The country is under construction but if each time we destroy we will always lag behind.”
Haiti is still recovering from Hurricane Matthew which struck in 2016. Almost 40,000 people remain in makeshift camps after an earthquake killed more than 200,000 people eight years ago, and thousands of others have died from a years-long cholera epidemic.
On Friday night the bodyguard of an opposition-party politician died in an altercation with demonstrators in central Port-au-Prince as he attempted to force a passage through a roadblock. His body was then burned in the road.
The national police director pleaded urgently for calm.
“We understand your right to protest,” said Michel-Ange Gedeon. “But we do not understand the violence.”
At least two police stations and several police vehicles have been burned.
A framework signed in February between the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Haiti implied the ending of subsidies for petroleum products, which are a major source of the budget deficit.
But subsidies also help make fuel affordable in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country, where most people live in extreme poverty, joblessness is widespread and the inflation rate has exceeded 13 per cent for the past three years.
Arguing in support of the higher fuel prices earlier in the day, Lafontant said that between 2010 and 2018, government fuel subsidies had cost $1 billion — an amount, he said, that “could have allowed us to build many kilometres (miles) of highway… many classrooms… many health clinics.”
Government officials also complain that the country has for years effectively been subsidizing people in the neighbouring Dominican Republic who drive across the border to take advantage of Haiti’s lower fuel prices.
Oxfam formally apologised to Haiti Monday over the prostitution scandal rocking the aid charity, expressing its “shame” and vowing to do better as it handed over a damning internal report into the allegations.
Made public earlier in the day, Oxfam’s 2011 report into the behaviour of aid workers sent to Haiti following a devastating earthquake revealed that a former top official admitted to paying for sex and that three staff physically threatened a witness.
“We came here to share the report with the minister and express our shame and apologies to the Haitian government and to the Haitian people,” said Simon Ticehurst, Oxfam’s regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean.
“We’ve taken lots of measures to improve internal safeguarding measures,” he said following a more than two-hour meeting with Haiti’s minister of planning and external cooperation, Aviol Fleurant, who had summoned the charity to explain itself.
Oxfam’s 2011 report, compiled in the year after aid workers were deployed to Haiti, revealed that seven staff were accused of using prostitutes at an Oxfam-funded residence.
Country director Roland Van Hauwermeiren admitted paying for sex and was offered a “phased and dignified exit” of resignation if he cooperated with the inquiry.
The report also said three Oxfam employees were involved in “physically threatening and intimidating” a witness who spoke to the investigators.
Four staff were fired for gross misconduct and three others, including Van Hauwermeiren, were allowed to quit.
Details of the Haiti scandal surfaced earlier this month and have engulfed Oxfam, drawing widespread condemnation and putting its funding at risk.
British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday described the matter as “horrific,” adding that “it was far below the standards that we expect for the charities and the NGOs that we’re working with.”
“We will not work with anybody who does not meet the high standards that we set and we believe are important,” May added during a visit to a London school.
The charity has been suspended from bidding for new government funding until it undertakes reforms.
Oxfam has denied trying to cover up the allegations but admitted it could have been more open at the time, saying it was publishing the report “in recognition of the breach of trust that has been caused.”
The Haitian government has expressed outrage and launched its own inquiry.
Haitian President Jovenel Moise tweeted last week that there was “nothing more unworthy or dishonest than a sexual predator who uses his position as part of the humanitarian response to a natural disaster to exploit needy people in their moment of great vulnerability.”
Haiti’s government on Friday condemned US President Donald Trump’s reported remarks about its people as “racist.”
“The government of the Republic of Haiti is profoundly outraged and shocked by the tenor of the remarks, not officially denied,” it said in a statement, adding the comments reported by US media “at a minimum are disrespectful and insulting.”
“The Haitian government condemns with the greatest firmness these odious and abject remarks which, if they were said, would in every respect be unacceptable because they reflect a simplistic and totally wrong racist vision of the Haitian community and its contributions to the United States of America,” the statement said.
Trump was reported to have referred to Haiti, El Salvador and African nations as “shithole countries” during a White House meeting with lawmakers on immigration reform.
“Why do we need more Haitians?” the Washington Post quoted him as saying, citing people briefed on the meeting. “Take them out.”
In a tweet Friday, Trump denied making the “take them out” remark. But a US senator present at the meeting said the president repeatedly called the countries “shitholes.”
President Donald Trump on Tuesday faced a backlash over his tough immigration policies after announcing that 59,000 Haitians who took refuge in the United States following the 2010 earthquake must return home.
Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle blasted the decision to repatriate the Haitians within 18 months, removing the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) they received after the disaster, which killed more than 200,000 people and destroyed much of Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince.
Hundreds of protesters rallied near Trump’s Mar-a-Lago retreat in West Palm Beach, Florida — where the president was expected to arrive later for the Thanksgiving holiday — to voice their discontent at the move.
“The announcement to end TPS is mean-spirited two days before Thanksgiving,” said Wendi Walsh of Unite Here, a labor group helping organize the demonstration.
“These are people who have jobs here, who have houses, who have children here who are American citizens…. At this point we need a permanent status for people with TPS,” she said.
Haitians and their supporters also demonstrated in New York, warning that the decision would lead to breaking up families. Thousands of children have been born in the United States to people under TPS protections.
In Port-au-Prince, officials said they were grateful for the 18-month grace period, but residents voiced concern about the long-term repercussions.
“We knew this program was only temporary,” said Haiti’s ambassador to the US, Paul Altidor.
– ‘Not ready’ –
The US decision announced late Monday by the Department of Homeland Security was expected. But critics said impoverished Haiti is not prepared for an influx of returnees.
“Haiti is not ready,” said Marleine Bastien, Director of Haitian Women of Miami.
“It still has people displaced from the earthquake and from Hurricane Matthew. Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused even more damage, the cholera epidemic left 1.2 million people contaminated, there is no access to clean water infrastructure yet,” she told AFP.
“You look at the conditions on the ground and Haiti is a textbook on TPS continuation.”
In Canada, officials were girding for a potential surge of Haitians seeking asylum there; a number have already crossed the border from the United States in recent months since the Trump administration signalled its intent to end TPS.
“We’ve been planning for every conceivable scenario,” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said.
– ‘Unconscionable’ –
Lawmakers from both parties representing districts with large Haitian communities — particularly in Florida and New York — lashed out against the decision.
“There is no reason to send 60,000 Haitians back to a country that cannot provide for them. This decision today by DHS is unconscionable,” said Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, who represents Florida.
“These individuals experienced severe loss and suffering as a result of the 2010 earthquake, and forcing them to leave the United States would be detrimental,” said Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican congressman from Miami.
“These individuals are established, respected members of our communities who have made significant contributions, and I urge the administration to reconsider its decision regarding Haitian and Nicaraguan nationals,” Diaz-Balart added.
Two weeks ago, the Trump administration also terminated the TPS status granted to 5,300 Nicaraguans after Hurricane Mitch slammed Central America in 1998, with renewals granted following other natural disasters.
Tens of thousands of Hondurans under TPS had their stay extended until July, and in January 2018, DHS is expected to decide on the status of some 200,000 TPS immigrants from El Salvador.
– Trump crackdown on immigrants – Since coming to office in January, Trump has pressed for a crackdown on immigration, both legal and illegal, saying it has boosted crime and added to security threats.
Acting on Trump’s order, DHS and the Justice Department are upping the pressure on cities and states that provide sanctuary to illegal immigrants, including millions in the country for decades, by not turning them over to immigration officers for deportation.
The Justice Department has ordered a cutoff of federal funds to “sanctuary cities” and at the beginning of November warned California, the country’s largest state by population, that it would lose out on millions of dollars in federal funds if it continued to shield illegal immigrants from federal officers.
And last week, the department warned 29 “sanctuary” cities, counties and states that they would soon have federal funds cut off.
In response, a San Francisco federal judge ruled Monday that the Trump administration could not act on its threats, calling it unconstitutional and setting up a possible Supreme Court showdown.
The Brazilian contingent of the United Nations Security Council ended its 13-year-long peacekeeping mission in Haiti on Thursday (August 31) with a ceremony honouring the 37,000 soldiers who have served in the Caribbean nation and the 25 who died while there.
The peacekeeping mission, one of the longest running in the world and known as MINUSTAH, has been dogged by controversies, including the introduction of cholera to the island and sexual abuse claims.
U.N. peacekeepers were deployed to Haiti in 2004 when a rebellion led to the ouster and exile of then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. It is the only U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Americas and currently led by Brazil.
Sandra Honore, Head of U.N. stabilisation mission in Haiti, said, “The United Nations, and I’m sure the Haitian people also, are very grateful for the key role that Brazil played in the efforts to create long-lasting stability here along with troops from a total of 24 countries across the world who participated in MINUSTAH since its creation, including troops from Latin American countries that traditionally made up the majority of troops.”
On his part, Brazil’s Defence Minister, Raul Kingmann, “Twenty-five contingents passed through here, more than 37,000 soldiers passed through here but 25 of them did not return to their homes. I think, in honour to them and all the other (armed) forces who participated in this peace mission, a minute of silence in their memory, in their honour.”
The $346 million mission will be replaced with a smaller police, which would be drawn down after two years as the country boosts its own force. The new mission will be established for an initial six months, from October 16, 2017 to April 15, 2018, and is projected to exit two years after its establishment.