U.S. Coast Guard officials say a boat carrying more than 100 Haitian migrants has capsized near the Turks and Caicos islands, killing at least 20 people. In Miami, VOA's Brian Wagner reports that Coast Guard officials are assisting in search and rescue operations.
Coast Guard officials say police in the Turks and Caicos intercepted the overloaded boat before dawn and were bringing it into port when the vessel capsized. Authorities for the British territory in the Caribbean called U.S. Coast Guard officials to help in the search and rescue operation.
The chief of Coast Guard response operations in the Bahamas, Commander David Billburg, said a rescue helicopter and a cutter ship were deployed to assist in the efforts.
He says a key focus of Coast Guard operations in the area is interdicting drugs being shipped from South America into the United States. But he says units also respond on a regular basis to stop boats carrying illegal migrants from Haiti.
"As a matter of fact, over the last 10 days or so we have intercepted over 800 Haitians that have been on these overloaded sailboats," he said.
Commander Billburg says that many of the migrants in the latest incident were rescued alive from the waters. But he says Haitian migrants run serious risks when they depart their nation in aging vessels, which are often overloaded with people.
"People are standing literally on top of each other on these sailboats that are not very sea-worthy," he said. "This is maybe the second capsizing that has occurred over the last two months."
U.S. officials strongly discourage Haitians and other foreign nationals from seeking to enter the United States illegally. The vast majority of potential migrants caught at sea are returned to their home countries.
Haitian community leaders in south Florida are calling on the U.S. government to temporarily relax immigration restrictions for Haiti, because of recent political instability and dire living conditions there. They say Temporary Protected Status has been granted to other foreign nationals recently because of similar conditions in their home countries.