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A ship carrying more than 800 Haitians trying to reach the United States instead ended up on the coast of central Cuba in what appeared to be the largest group ever seen in a growing exodus from crisis-ridden Haiti.
Red Cross officials in Villa Clara province said Wednesday that the 842 Haitians were staying at a tourist campsite. The group arrived in Villa Blanca, about 290 km east of Havana, on Tuesday and reportedly included 70 children and 97 women.
The Haitians said they called for help with light signals after being abandoned and thrown adrift by their captain.
“We were on Tortuga Island for two months waiting for the trip until last Saturday when at five o’clock in the morning they took us to the boat,” 19-year-old Joyce Paul told The Associated Press. who arrived on the boat.
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In the days that followed, “15 people threw themselves into the sea because they couldn’t stand the hunger,” says Paul. “There was a herring for (each) 15 people, and they gave us water.”
Paul was traveling with an uncle, his wife and a baby at a cost of $4,000 per person. The family said the captain abandoned them early Tuesday on a separate small boat after taking their mobile phones. The ship was listing. With a flashlight, they managed to attract the attention of the inhabitants of the Cuban coast.
While the number of migrants on this one ship seemed unprecedented, the U.S. Coast Guard and other nations reported intercepting multiple boats carrying more than 100 Haitians in recent months.
It is not uncommon for currents and winds to carry Haitians to Cuba, which borders most of the sea route between Haiti and the United States. Cuba returns most of the migrants arriving in Haiti.
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A crumbling economy and a spike in gang-related violence and kidnappings in Haiti have prompted thousands of Haitians to flee their country over the past year. Human rights activists in Haiti say those fleeing believe it is safer to take the risk on an overcrowded boat than to stay in their country.
US authorities say the number of Haitian migrants detained in and around US jurisdictions in the Caribbean has doubled. On Tuesday, the US Coast Guard said it stopped a sailing freighter carrying 153 Haitian migrants near the Florida Keys.
Earlier this month, the Coast Guard rescued 36 Haitian migrants and found 11 others dead – all women – after a boat capsized northwest of Puerto Rico. The rescue came just days after 68 migrants were rescued in dangerous waters between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.
In April, the US Coast Guard spotted more than 130 Haitian migrants aboard a boat near the Bahamas. A month earlier, 140 migrants landed in the Florida Keys.
U.S. Coast Guard crews have intercepted about 4,500 Haitians since October. Many were trying to land in the Florida Keys in overloaded ships. More than 3,000 of these migrants have been found since mid-March, signaling that the pace picked up in the spring.
Meanwhile, the Cuban government reported that a group of 292 Haitians reached Ciego de Avila province in February.
Máximo Luz, a journalist with broadcaster Telecubanacan, said “adverse sailing conditions” brought the last group of Haitians to Cuba, where “they asked for help from border guards.”
National news site Cubadebate showed footage of a gray ship full of people and rescue workers ferrying some of the Haitians for treatment.
Miguel Ángel Fernández, head of the Red Cross in Villa Clara province, said the 842 Haitians had received medical attention and first aid.
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“They are in quarantine,” Fernández told AP, indicating they would be there for three to five days.
Arletys Ramos, municipal director of epidemiology, said Haitians are being monitored for diseases such as COVID-19, malaria and cholera, although no one in the group was seriously ill.
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