NASSAU – Their coffins draped in the Haitian flag and a bouquet of flowers, 22 Haitian migrants who were killed when their sloop shipwrecked in Abaco more than a week ago were mourned yesterday by hundreds who did not know them but who came to show empathy for the plight that brought them to their demise. The sombre ceremony was punctuated by loud cries that occasionally rang from every part of the Enoch Beckford Auditorium on Carmichael Road.
From the pulpit, speakers pleaded for the deaths to serve as a turning point that discourages future treacherous voyages and leads the Haitian government to embrace policies that uplift its people.
“The death of these individuals desperately seeking a better way of life and trying to help their families brings into focus that we need to look regionally and internationally at ourselves in the Haitian community,” said noted preacher Bishop Simeon Hall. “This tragedy brings into focus the urgent need for the political and economic leaders of the island republic of Haiti to take a deep look at themselves.”
“We are all one,” said Rev Dr William Thompson. “We all came from the same place. We were deposited on different islands but we’re all one. We come to ask the Haitian government to put in place measures that would stop these kind of voyages.
“There’s no question you know of the persons that are doing this ungodly action. They must be weed out and made an example of. These are human beings and our hearts feel for them.”
Herns Mesamours, a consular officer from the Haitian Embassy, said similarly: “This is not a good moment. We want to ask you to serve as an ambassador to discourage, discourage, discourage the people from coming illegally in The Bahamas.”
Some of the heaviest applause was for Bahamas Christian Council president Delton Fernander who highlighted Haiti’s fight against slavery and colonialism during the Haitian revolution and the role that played in the country’s later struggles.
“We cannot and should not judge anyone harshly who would take a drastic measure to try make it better for their families and for those they leave behind,” he said.
In a rare moment of humour, Francois J Michel, Haiti’s charge d’affaires, boasted of his country’s blessings, saying: “The culture of Haiti is rich and valuable, good food, good beaches and there is something else: beautiful women.”
Official Opposition leader Philip Brave Davis and the Bahamas High Commissioner to CARICOM Reuben Rahming also brought remarks.
The funeral was a culmination of a week of search and rescue efforts after a sloop reportedly carrying 83 people shipwrecked in the Abaco cays while navigating a dangerous reef on February 1.
Authorities have recovered 31 bodies thus far, nine of which were too badly decomposed to make yesterday’s closed-casket ceremony.
Haitian government representatives said all funeral expenses were covered by their government. The funeral was organized by the League of Haitian Pastors, a local group.
A 19-year-old woman, Gina Francis, was one of many mourners who told The Tribune she did not know the victims.
Explaining why she attended the funeral, she said: “I have the same nationality as them and I would need people to support me as well if I’m in the same situation so I feel I need to support them too.”
She said some Haitians are warned about the treacherous journey by sea to the Bahamas but they come because they believe Haitians living here are “lying to them.”
“If someone living over here with family over there, they does say ‘you living a better life, you just don’t want us come over there,’” she said. “I does fear for my family but I wouldn’t advise them to do something like this. I worry they would try.”
Another woman, Sadilia Simeone, said she has been in the Bahamas since the 1970s and does not know if she still has family in Haiti.
“I come Bahamas in 1979,” she said. “I know nothing about Haiti.”
Still, asked why she attended yesterday’s funeral, she said: “Because I am Haitian and these are Haitians who died. I hate it, because that’s my country.”
The bodies were buried at the Southern Cemetery on Cowpen and Spikenard Roads.