More people are risking lives in the Caribbean to reach safety

Briefing Notes, 13 July 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 13 July 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is very concerned by the loss of life we are seeing in maritime incidents in the Caribbean among people trying to escape difficult conditions in Haiti.

On Tuesday July 10, a woman drowned when a boat carrying more than 100 Haitian migrants ran aground near the Bahamas. In an earlier tragedy, on June 12, more than a dozen Haitians lost their lives in Bahamian and US waters while trying to reach the shores of Florida. These events are a reminder of the extremes that people in difficult situations sometimes resort to.

Continuing difficulties in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake are leading thousands of Haitians to flee their homeland each year, often in unseaworthy vessels. Although no firm statistics exist, it is estimated that hundreds of deaths occur yearly as a result.

US Coast Guard data shows that since December 2011 over 900 people have been found on boats in rescue or interception operations including some 652 Haitians, 146 Cubans and 111 people from the Dominican Republic.

Inside Haiti, internal displacement remains significant with 421,000 individuals still living in camps in and around Port-au-Prince and elsewhere in the country. The political situation remains tense, and a rise is reported in criminality and insecurity. A cholera outbreak has continued.

UNHCR is also concerned about countries that are returning the Haitians to Haiti, ignoring an earlier joint-appeal by UNHCR and OHCHR asking states not to return Haitians, for humanitarian reasons, without adequate individual protection screening. The joint call was made in view of the daunting humanitarian challenges that Haiti still faces, exacerbated by the January 2010 earthquake.

UNHCR continues to advocate for the inclusion of adequate protection safeguards for individuals apprehended at sea, and hopes that such tragedies can be avoided in the future through enhanced international cooperation in the region.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Geneva: Melissa Fleming on number +41 22 557 91 22
  • Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 91 20
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