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Relatives want boat capsizing survivors released

October 22, 2013

MIAMI (AP) — Haitians who believe their relatives were among 15 people aboard a boat that capsized off South Florida called on U.S. officials Monday to release more information about who survived the accident.

Four women died and 11 people were found clinging to the overturned hull last week seven miles east of Miami.

Since the news broke, Dieudonne Alcinor has been trying to find out if her 37-year-old niece was among the survivors being detained by immigration officials — or if the niece was among those who died.

“We are suffering a lot,” Alcinor said at a news conference in Miami’s Little Haiti.

The ill-fated voyage began in the Bahamas, U.S. officials say. Drowning was the cause of death in all four cases, said Larry Cameron, director of operations at the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office.

One has been identified as a 38-year-old Haitian woman, Carmen Valeris, but no one has come forward to identify the other three victims, Cameron said.

Six Jamaican and Bahamian citizens, including two men identified by other survivors as the boat’s captain and the crewman, face a charge of attempting to illegally enter the U.S. after being deported. The crewman also faces a charge of attempted smuggling.

The remaining survivors include four Haitians and one Bahamian, but it was not known where they were being detained or whether they would be released to their families, said Marleine Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami.

Bastien and Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat, whose elderly uncle died in U.S. custody after fleeing violence in Haiti in 2004, called on immigration officials to release the survivors.

“We believe these refugees were traumatized,” Bastien said. “We believe they’ve suffered enough.”

Along with other Haitian-American community leaders, they decried U.S. immigration policy as a double standard that usually permits Cubans who reach U.S. shores to be quickly processed and released to their families while their claims for humanitarian parole are considered, while Haitians and migrants from other countries typically remain in immigration detention.

Each year, thousands of migrants from Haiti, Cuba and other Caribbean countries attempt to illegally enter the U.S. by reaching Florida’s coast in overloaded or unseaworthy vessels, often through established smuggling networks that include islands in the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos.

Bastien pinned some responsibility for the ongoing migration from her homeland on the Haitian government for not maintaining an infrastructure that would offer jobs, an education or political stability to potential migrants considering the risky journey.

“We want the refuge to be in Haiti,” she said.

Authorities were also investigating whether the Miami case was related to another overloaded boat intercepted this month off Palm Beach County. According to the Coast Guard, an overloaded boat was found Oct. 16 off Lake Worth Inlet. Two people on board were transferred to U.S. law enforcement authorities, and 23 Haitians were sent back to their home country.

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