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FILE – This photo provided by U.S. Border Patrol shows Haitian migrants ashore wrapped in towels after a boat ran aground in the Florida Keys off Key Largo on Sunday, March 6, 2022. Haitian migrants are reaching Florida shores in a string of suspected smuggling operations that could exceed last year’s waves of migration. (US Border Patrol via AP, file)

PA

Haitian migrants are reaching Florida’s shores in large numbers as human smuggling operations escalate, surpassing last year’s waves of migration.

The rise in desperate and sometimes deadly voyages on overloaded ships comes amid growing political instability, runaway inflation, severe fuel shortages and a spike in gang-related violence and kidnappings in Haiti.

About 140 Haitian migrants landed Monday in Summerland Key, about 30 miles down the highway from Key West, and Monroe County sheriff’s deputies joined federal agents in processing them.

Earlier this month, a wooden boat carrying hundreds of migrants ran aground in shallow water off Key Largo, and 163 people swam ashore near the Ocean Reef Club. Many needed medical attention, federal officials said.

Another boat carrying 176 Haitians was stopped in January just off the Florida Keys, the US Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard regularly returns persons banned at sea to their country of origin. Those who arrive in the United States are usually taken into custody and face deportation unless they have viable asylum claims.

The United Nations Security Council reported in mid-February that gangs in Haiti have become more powerful and are taking over more territory, with an under-resourced and understaffed police force struggling to contain them.

“The actions of these armed criminal groups have had a catastrophic impact on the economy of Haiti and threaten the fundamental rights of all Haitian citizens, in particular their rights to life, freedom of movement, work, health care health and education,” the UN report concluded. .

Kidnappings in the country of more than 11 million people have increased by 180% and homicides by 17% in the past year, with more than 500 people killed between September and December alone, including 40 women and children as young as 5 years old, according to the report.

In addition, cases of civil unrest have jumped more than 80% as growing numbers of Haitians are pushed deeper into poverty, with inflation hitting double digits.

In addition, many Haitians who have lived abroad for many years in South American countries have sought entry through the southern land border into the United States, which has returned approximately 18,000 people to Haiti. these last months.

Another 10,000 Haitians have been expelled from the neighboring Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola, in recent months as part of a crackdown on migrants. Once back, many former expatriates compounded Haiti’s unemployment crisis.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is taking the lead in investigating the latest case in the Florida Keys.

The Coast Guard has stopped other Haitian boats sailing near the Bahamas with dozens of migrants. On Sunday, the agency transferred 127 Haitians and three Cuban nationals to Bahamian authorities after picking them up from two locations near Anguilla Cay, Bahamas.

So far this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, Coast Guard crews have encountered 1,193 Haitians at sea. That compares to 1,527 Haitian migrants in all of fiscal year 2021, 418 in 2020 and 932 in 2019, the Coast Guard said.

On February 28, crews spotted a Haitian sailboat with 179 people on board 50 kilometers off the island of Andros, Bahamas. Last Friday, the coast guard stopped another Haitian sailboat with 123 people, including 39 minors, about 16 kilometers from Anguilla Cay, in the Bahamas.

“The Coast Guard maintains a persistent presence patrolling the waters around Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas, to help prevent loss of life,” said Lt. Cmdr of the US Coast Guard. said Salomee Briggs in a press release. “Going to sea is very dangerous, we urge you not to risk your life and that of your loved ones.

Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry has pledged to fight violence, boost the economy and help the country recover from a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit the southern region of the country in August, killing more than 2,200 people and destroying tens of thousands of homes. But help was slow to arrive as violent gang clashes shut down the capital’s main road.

Henry has also promised to hold general elections this year as the country struggles to prosecute those accused of killing President Jovenel Moïse on July 7, with two judges stepping down from the case in fear for their lives.

The United Nations says more than 16,000 people in Haiti have lost their homes since mid-2021 due to gang violence, many of them staying in temporary government shelters in extremely unsanitary conditions. This while inflation has climbed to 19% in recent months.

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Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.