Dozens of Haitian migrants were abandoned on barren islands off Puerto Rico in three separate incidents in recent days, the latest indication of the growing smuggling problem in the Caribbean.
A total of 42 Haitians, along with five Cubans, were left on the uninhabited islands of Mona and Mantila. Smugglers had brought them from the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
On May 22, a group of 20 Haitians, including a child, were found clinging to a rock after smugglers forced them to jump into the water, The Associated Press reports.
The migrants were taken into Border Patrol custody.
Separately, the Royal Bahamas Defense Force said it had detained 76 Haitian migrants found in an overloaded vessel near the Exuma chain of islands last Friday.
Mona and Mantila are in the Mona Passage, which separates the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. It’s an 80-mile strait that has become increasingly well-trafficked with smugglers.
Last year, law enforcement officials intercepted more than 2,000 Haitians, compared with 139 Haitians in the previous four years combined.
Since the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010, thousands of Haitians have fled toward either the U.S. or South America.
Waters in the Mona Passage are often fairly rough and smuggling crafts are often unsafe. Dozens of migrants have lost their lives in recent months.
Last month, Naaman Davis, a Bahamian man, pleaded guilty to smuggling charges in federal court in Miami. He was allegedly drunk and high on cocaine when his boat capsized near Florida last fall.
Coast Guard officials have been trying to discourage South Florida residents from paying to have their relatives smuggled out of Haiti.