Sunday, April 1, 2007

Over 100 Haitian migrants land on Florida beach

MIAMI (Reuters) - More than 100 Haitian migrants landed on a beach north of Miami on Wednesday after fleeing their impoverished Caribbean homeland aboard a rickety sailboat, authorities said.

At least one of the migrants died before making it ashore at Hallandale Beach and about 101 others were being treated for dehydration, said Coast Guard spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson.

She said it was the largest U.S. landing of Haitian migrants in about a year, and that conditions aboard their 30- to 35-foot (9-10-meter) vessel were indicative of the strong need they must have felt to abandon the poorest country in the Americas.

"It's obviously not the best in seaworthiness," Johnson said of the boat, which made the last part of its voyage in choppy seas. "It could be a much worse situation had they not landed or had they had some sort of emergency en route."

A police spokesman said the trip was believed to have taken about three weeks.

Unlike Cuban migrants, who are allowed to stay in the United States if they make landfall after crossing the treacherous Florida Straits, Haitian boatpeople are generally returned home.

Last year, the Coast Guard rounded up 6,093 migrants seeking to make their way into the United States. Of that number, 769 were Haitians.

Only 10 Haitians had been picked up by the Coast Guard so far this year, before Wednesday's landing at Hallandale Beach.