By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
LEAGUE of Haitian Churches President Dr Jean Paul Charles yesterday called for greater efforts to discourage illegal migration from ports in Haiti as he mourned the scores of Haitian nationals who drowned in a fatal attempt at entering the country this weekend.
Dr Charles told The Tribune his league - which represents more than 70 pastors through the country - convened an emergency meeting on Saturday to determine how best to respond to the tragedy, particularly connecting victims’ families and fundraising for burials.
“Our hearts go out to those that lost their lives, and their families,” Mr Charles said.
“We sympathise with all of them. As you can see it’s an ongoing thing, as much as we do to spread our message, people will still risk their lives to come. As you can see so many people have died, lost their lives.”
Mr Charles said: “We don’t know any family members yet, because they will wait to see the others who are alive. Those in Haiti are calling to see if their family are alive but we don’t have any identifications yet.
“We held an emergency meeting to see what we can do. After that tragedy, none of the family will show up because they know they will have to answer and also handle the burial.”
According to immigration officials, the sloop is believed to have hit a reef around 9.30pm on Friday near Fowl Cay, off Man-O-War Cay and subsequently sunk. Rescue efforts began early Saturday morning, and up to press time, 28 people were confirmed to have drowned.
The deadly incident invoked memories of a similar tragedy in 2013, when 30 Haitians died after their packed 40-foot sloop ran aground and capsized off the Exuma chain during stormy weather. In 2013, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force and US Coast Guard rescued some 110 people, but it was believed at the time that more bodies would be recovered.
Most of the victims drowned, but lack of drinking water may have played a part in some of the deaths, as the vessel was at sea for more than a week and many survivors were severely dehydrated.
The previous year, 2012, 11 Haitians - six adults and five children - drowned in waters off Abaco.
The league was formerly called the League of Haitian Pastors, but has since been changed to reflect the expanded grouping of some 56 pastors in New Providence and more than 30 pastors in the Family Islands from various denominations ranging from Catholicism to Seventh-Day Adventists.