As the number of migrants apprehended in the region continues to rise, six Cubans and a St. Kitts and Nevis national were detained on Great Thatch early Friday morning, police announced the same day.
Following a notification from the United States Coast Guard of a suspicious vessel in Virgin Islands waters at around 4:30 a.m. on Friday, VI Search and Rescue and officers of the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force responded, and the Joint Task Force was activated, according to the Police Information Office.
The migrants, who included a 9-month-old infant, were subsequently found and detained.
The police said a 50-foot monohull sailboat, believed to be the vessel that transported the seven, was recovered in nearby waters. Investigations are ongoing in the matter, the PIO stated. Officials have not provided any other updates on the migrants’ status since they were taken into custody on Friday.
At least 94 detentions
Friday’s detention carries the total number of migrants detained so far this year in the VI to at least 94, according to reports from VI police and other law enforcers.
VI officials have struggled in recent months to respond to an apparent surge in migrants landing in the territory, many of whom may be fleeing political and economic turmoil in Haiti and other countries.
On July 18, police detained 19 migrants and a Chalwell Estate captain after a boat chase that ended in Manuel Reef. The Police Information Office said at the time that the migrants were nationals of Venezuela, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Guyana.
On April 24, Joint Task Force officers apprehended 15 migrants after responding to reports of an abandoned vessel on Anegada. They included Haitians, Colombians and Romanians, the JTF stated. About a month earlier, on March 23, JTF officers detained about 23 migrants on the south side of Virgin Gorda, Customs Commissioner Wade Smith told the Beacon at the time.
The detainees were adults of “various different ages” from “various countries,” Mr. Smith added.
In late January, customs officers detained 30 more migrants after responding to a report of a suspicious vessel near Kingstown. Mr. Smith said at the time that men, women and children were aboard the boat, but he declined to provide specifics about their ages, genders or nationalities.
VI officials have struggled to house the detained migrants while processing them.
In the past year, at least 14 have escaped from the temporary detention facility at Hotel Castle Maria in McNamara — though at least seven were subsequently recaptured, officials have reported.
The VI is not the only Caribbean jurisdiction facing such pressures.
In recent months, increased migration in the region has drawn the attention of international agencies such as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
In May, UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo said during a press briefing in Geneva, Switzerland that the agency had become “increasingly concerned” about the growing number of Haitians who had resorted to utilising dangerous methods to try to cross the Caribbean Sea mainly in overloaded and unseaworthy boats.
As of May, she said, the US Coast Guard had reported that it had interdicted almost 3,900 Haitian nationals so far in fiscal year 2022 — more than double the 1,527 interdicted in fiscal year 2021. In addition, at least 175 Haitians had been reported to the USCG as missing or deceased, she added.
One deadly incident took place in July off the coast of the Bahamas, where at least 17 Haitians died by drowning after a boat carrying dozens of migrants capsized, Reuters reported.
Bahamas authorities believe more than 60 people were aboard the vessel, which they suspect was heading for Miami when tragedy struck according to the report. Rescue teams managed to save 25 people, Reuters reported, noting that two of them were arrested in connection with the human smuggling operation.
In light of the climbing migrant numbers, Ms. Mantoo called on governments to “fulfil their maritime rescue obligations and ensure all those in need of international protection are identified and offered unobstructed and prompt access to fair asylum procedures.”