Haitians in voyage of despair

Their boat, with typical Haitian optimism, was named Espoir en Dieu (Hope in God). Neither the United States intervention in their country, it seems, nor the presence of United Nations peace-keepers, had increased their hopes of a better future.

Even hardened US Coast Guards were shocked on Sunday to find 115 Haitians, 37 of them women, jammed like sardines in a hidden, sealed compartment on a rickety fishing boat a few hundred yards off Miami's tourist beaches.The Haitians got to set foot, shakily, in the Land of the Free, but probably not for long.

Under US policy, which views Haitians as economic rather than political refugees, they are likely to be sent home, or at best to the already-packed refugee camps at the US military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Espoir en Dieu, a 65-foot wooden vessel, was spotted only a few hundred yards from Miami Beach before dawn on Sunday. Suspicious over its lack of navigational lights, the Coast Guard ordered its three-man crew to follow them to shore.

"We were checking it out when we heard noises from behind a partition above the engine room," said a Coast Guard officer. "When we broke through the partition, we saw them in there, in a compartment sealed but for air holes.'' In the compartment - six feet high, six feet wide and 20 feet deep - the 115 refugees must have been standing for days on the 500- mile trip, with little or no food or water and relieving themselves where they stood.

Coast Guard officials suspect the three crewmen, who were detained, formed a smuggling gang who charged the refugees their life savings from the sale of livestock, probably a few hundred dollars each, to get them to the United States. The refugees were handed over to the Immigration and Naturalisation Service and taken to the Krome detention centre, south of Miami, for questioning.

Of the other 128 Haitians picked up by the Coast Guard so far this year, all were repatriated to Haiti. Although President Bill Clinton hardened his policy on Cuban boat people last year - sending all those intercepted at sea to Guantanamo - Cubans who made it to US shores have virtually all been allowed to stay. Not so the Haitians. Even during the military regime overthrown by the Americans last year, Haitians were not considered to have a political asylum claim.

The refugee group was the largest caught in recent months off Florida. The conditions they endured brought home the fact that, despite the six- month US intervention and the apparent return of democracy, despair and starvation remain.

Since the US formally pulled out its troops on 31 March, 2,500 remain as part of the UN force, there have been violent demonstrations in demand for jobs. Although the United States talks of $1.2bn (£760m) in pledged foreign aid, little has so far filtered down to the level of filling bellies.

Haiti has arguably become the poorest nation in the world. Per capita income has fallen over the last three years from $320 to $220 a year. Since that average figure includes the wealthy and the minority of decent wage-earners, the majority lives on even less than that.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This design and print company a...

Recruitment Genius: Lift and Elevator Contract Manager - London

£38000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Engineer - OTE £40,000

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Engineer is required to...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Hull - £32,000

£30000 - £32000 per annum + £4200 car allowance: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Suppo...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence