The country of Haiti is in a horrible state right now. The economy is in a shambles and their politicians seem to be unable or unwilling to do anything to help their people. This isn’t a new issue. In fact, Haiti has been a country in turmoil for centuries. To make matters worse, the country has suffered devastating hurricanes and earth quakes over the last decade, causing many in Haiti to lose all hope. Many are fleeing the country, looking for a better life. Haitians of all ages have been desperate enough to climb in to overcrowded, unseaworthy boats and try their luck on the high seas, hoping they’ll land on sympathetic soil. This sad story sets the stage for our recent encounter with Haitian refugees.
On our way back from the Turks & Caicos this winter, we planned to break the trip up in to several “day hops” to break up the long trip to the Ragged Islands in the Southern Bahamas. Our first stop was Little Inagua, located about 65 miles northwest of the Turks & Caicos. We anchored for the night just off the Northwest side of the island where the water is crystal clear and the beach is sugar white. We were keen to do some snorkeling and exploring.
As we anchored, a US Navy ship was also anchoring about 3 miles away from us at the other end of the beach. We watched them drop a patrol boat in the water and expected them to come check on us, but instead, it appeared they were doing some training or short patrols along their end of the beach.
Late in the afternoon, we took the dogs ashore and walked along the beautiful beach. We noticed signs that other people had been on the beach recently — fire rings (which we thought had possibly been used by fellow cruisers to burn trash) and lots of foot prints in the sand. Since it was a perfect overnight stop for cruisers heading south or north, it never occurred to us that we could be in danger of encountering refugees.
Back aboard Roam, we watched a beautiful sunset from the flybridge, had a nice meal, turned in early, and dreamed of the beautiful reefs and beaches that awaited us the next morning on Little Inagua!
The dogs had us moving early as they were anxious to get ashore. As I came up to the pilot house from our cabin, I glanced ashore and noticed a couple of people walking along the beach. I thought a cruiser must have anchored near by during the night and didn’t give it much more thought. I told Michelle we had neighbors and when she came up to look, she saw not two cruisers, but 20+ young men on the beach. They were trying to get our attention with make shift bucket drums, a smokey fire, and lots of shouting!
Our first instinct was to go ashore and help these poor refugees with water, food, and any other assistance needed, but we had heard stories of cruisers that lost their boats to refugees that were desperate to get to the U.S. Our nurture instincts quickly gave way to fear and I began preparing the boat to leave. Electronics needed to be started, engine room needed to be checked, dinghy had to be raised and tied down – so much to get done and what if they decide to swim out to us before we get away?
While I was readying Roam to leave, Michelle got on the VHF radio and tried calling for assistance. She tried the Naval Vessel which had disappeared sometime before sunrise. Silence. She tried the Royal Bahamas Defense Force (RBDF). No Answer. Finally, she asked for ANYONE to answer her calls. Crickets. We realized that we were truly alone, well except for a group of Haitian Refugees! We decided to use our satellite phone to call our friends Ted & Jennie on Southern Star. We knew they were in an area that had internet access and assumed they could look up the phone number for the RBDF and make the call for us. We gave Ted our LAT/LONG coordinates so they would know where we were.
Ted reiterated that we needed to get away from the beach ASAP, but Michelle wouldn’t go until we could get a care package ashore for the poor soles. I agreed that we should do something for them, but didn’t want to take the chance of getting overwhelmed by a bunch of young, desperate men. We compromised by taking a supply of food and water to shore, but we motored well away from the men. As we pulled up to the beach and dropped the package, I could see the refugees were running down the beach towards us, yelling as they were advancing. We pointed at the package as we backed away and sped back to Roam.
With no more delays, we pulled the dinghy on deck, tied it down, pulled the anchor and were underway. As we motored away from the anchorage, we could see most of the young men gathered around our care package. We left, feeling horrible for the suffering humans we were leaving behind on the beach, but we knew that we couldn’t take the chance of providing more meaningful help. We got word that Ted was able to reach the RBDF and they were keen to get a boat out to pick the refugees up. We had done all that we could for them.
We were incredibly upset and moved by this experience. We wanted to help, but felt we couldn’t risk our own safety. We wanted to make sure that the refuges were picked up and provided food, water, and shelter, but we couldn’t get any information on their status. After about a week, Michelle received the following link from a friend in the Turks & Caicos: http://magneticmediatv.com/2019/04/bahamas-rbdf-apprehends-haitian-migrants/?fbclid=IwAR06JIm8PqD2MEvbkXsAgZNJRaE2QWWOckAkIRBU2rWgFarSMioBiu3uqPI . In short, we were relieved that the RBDF did, in fact, rescue a total of 40 Haitians from the beach. Unfortunately, they will be repatriated to Haiti.
If you’re interested, here are several links about Haiti to help explain what is going on in Haiti and how they got to this horrible state of affairs.
Here’s some information on the current situation in Haiti: https://www.trtworld.com/americas/what-is-going-on-in-haiti-24314
Here’s a brief history of Haiti: http://www.localhistories.org/haiti.html
And here’s a good article that explains why Haiti’s neighbor, the Dominican Republic has been so successful while Haiti has languished: https://www.economist.com/the-americas/2016/05/14/the-dominican-republic-and-haiti-one-island-two-nations-lots-of-trouble
Next Up: The Ragged Islands (my favorite Bahamas Island Group)