News Americas, Washington, DC, Fri. June 15, 2012: UNHCR is expressing deep concern about the recent maritime incidents that took the lives of Haitians who left the Bahamas in unseaworthy vessels.

The drowning of over a dozen Haitians in Bahamian waters this month is a reminder of the unnecessary loss of life in the Caribbean region as people are forced to migrate, the organization said.

Every year, thousands of desperate Haitians risk their lives in unseaworthy vessels in search of safety or flee poverty and untenable living conditions. Many die during the hazardous journey on the high seas. Although no firm statistics exist, it is estimated that hundreds of deaths occur yearly as a result of these incidents. For Haitians who find their way to another port or are intercepted at sea, most are often detained for prolonged periods of time before being repatriated.

Despite an appeal by UNHCR and OHCHR asking governments not to return Haitians, for humanitarian reasons, given the daunting humanitarian challenges Haiti faces, exacerbated by the January 2010 earthquake, some countries have ignored the call. Some Haitians are deported without properly determining whether they would face persecution upon return in Haiti.

UNHCR is calling on the governments to conduct an individual assessment of Haitians with appropriate screening for protection needs before determining whether to return an individual to Haiti. The appeal urges in particular that governments refrain from returning to Haiti any persons with special protection needs such as those who fear persecution, unaccompanied children and survivors of sexual or gender based violence.

Towards that effect, UNHCR is urging countries in the Caribbean region, in particularly those affected by the mixed movement of populations, to establish differentiated processes and procedures.

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