Villa Clara, Cuba (AP) — Some of the more than 840 Haitians who tried to reach the U.S. by boat but ended up in Cuba said Thursday that they had fled violence in their home country and were killed by The smugglers who took them charged thousands of dollars. boarded a dilapidated ship and later abandoned them at sea.
It was the largest single arrival of Haitians on the Cuban coast as gang violence and other problems there led to a growing exodus.
“They lied to us. In my case (a trafficker) told me that the boat will have 200 or 300 people, which is normal on a big boat. But when you’re on a boat, you don’t know how many there will be People show up,” said engineer Maximaud Cherizard, 34, who travels with a 7-year-old son, his wife and sister.
“When we got to Cuba, we were ashamed,” Cherizard said. The boat was so packed with people that some were on top of the boat, he said.
On Tuesday, the Cuban coast guard and other government agencies rescued 842 people near Caibarien in Clara province, some 300 kilometers (185 miles) east of the capital Havana. They were taken to a makeshift center for a former summer camp and quarantined as a health precaution.
The group left after waiting nearly two months on the island of Tortuga in northern Haiti, according to at least three migrants who spoke to The Associated Press. Word of the chance to go to Florida is said to have spread by word of mouth, with some saying they paid $4,000 each for a spot on the boat.
Migrants said they were taken by a small boat to a larger vessel early Saturday morning and their cellphones were taken by smugglers, a signal they claimed would have enabled the U.S. Coast Guard to detect them.
Cherizard said he saw a photo of a cruise ship that was going to take migrants, and when he saw the dilapidated ship, he realized the promise was wrong. He and other migrants said they did not see names on the boat.
Cherizard said he and his family were housed in a cabin with little access to the rest of the boat. When the captain abandoned the ship at sea on Tuesday morning, they learned that some migrants were trying to take control of the boat in an attempt to reach its destination.
Another migrant, Joyce Paul, 19, said the captain left a smaller boat and the boat the migrants were on began to tip. Haitians flashlights to the Cuban coast for rescue.
During the days at sea, 15 people jumped into the water as the situation became more desperate, according to Paul.
Cuban authorities reported that 70 children, including infants, were among the migrants.
“In Haiti, babies have no future,” said Loverie Horat, 30, mother of a 24-day-old baby. She and her husband boarded the ship after leaving the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, she told The Associated Press. Her comments in Creole were translated into Spanish by Cherizard.
Migrants say insecurity and poverty in Haiti have forced them to flee. Paul, 19, said gang members killed his two sisters.
Because of the violence, “you can’t be on the street,” Cherizard said.
Some smuggler boats aimed at reaching the United States ended up docked off the coast of Cuba due to currents and winds. Although authorities in Havana have acknowledged an increase in arrivals in recent months, not all arrivals are officially reported. Migrants usually return to their home countries under bilateral agreements.
The arrival of Haitians in Cuba comes as the island itself is suffering from a severe economic crisis, with shortages of food, medicine and fuel, and massive immigration to the United States.
“Humanitarian aid has always been a real challenge,” said Andy Borges, a member of the Coralillo Civil Defense Office, where the Haitian refugee camp is located.
U.S. Coast Guard workers have intercepted about 4,500 Haitian migrants since October. Many tried to land on the Florida coast in overloaded boats. More than 3,000 migrants have been stopped since mid-March, suggesting the pace picked up this spring.
“We don’t want to go back to Haiti,” said Leverie Horat, 30, one of the Haitian immigrants who wanted to reach the United States but ended up in Cuba.
Rodriguez reported from Havana.