Press Release

IACHR Expresses Deep Concern over Deaths and Disappearances of Migrants in Shipwrecks in the Caribbean Sea

May 14, 2014

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its deep concern over the increase of maritime incidents during the last year involving boats carrying migrants in the Caribbean Sea. These tragic incidents have caused the deaths and disappearances of many migrants. The victims of these incidents, which include men, women and children, are mostly migrants from Haiti, Cuba, Dominican Republic and other countries of the Caribbean and South America.

The last of these tragic incidents occurred on May 1 when a boat with 18 Haitian migrants aboard bound for Puerto Rico capsized off the coast of Boca Chica, Dominican Republic. Of the migrants aboard the boat, 6 died and the other 12 persons were rescued by the Navy of the Dominican Republic. According to publicly available information, two suspected traffickers were arrested and have been charged with criminal charges of smuggling of migrants and involuntary manslaughter.

The Commission wishes to acknowledge the efforts realized by the Navy of the Dominican Republic in the search and rescue operations, as well as in providing care to migrants who were affected in this shipwreck.

Counting this shipwreck, there are already more than twenty maritime incidents thus far in 2014 in various places in the Caribbean Sea involving about 320 people, 19 of whom have died and 12 are missing at sea. According to data collected by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) from 2010 to the present, 440 maritime incidents of boats carrying migrants in the Caribbean Sea have been able to be recorded. These incidents would have involved about 15,190 people, of which 240 were killed and 176 are missing at sea.

Commissioner Felipe González, Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants of the IACHR, signaled that, "unfortunately, this tragedy adds to the other hundreds of deaths and disappearances of migrants that are occurring at our borders and along migration routes, in deserts, mountainous areas, as well as in rivers and at sea. Between 2013 and thus far in 2014, the shipwrecks of migrant boats in the Caribbean Sea have claimed the lives of some 94 migrants and another 45 are missing at sea. These deaths and disappearances highlight the level of desperation faced daily by many people who are forced to migrate because of the insecurity and lack of enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. These persons, who in turn are part of the groups most vulnerable, migrate assuming the extreme dangers of irregular migration routes."

Commissioner Gonzalez also expressed that "the tightening of immigration policies will continue to claim senseless deaths and disappearances until States adopt comprehensive measures at the regional level to address the push and pull factors of migration, ensure regular and secure channels so that people can migrate without being subjected to various forms of discrimination, and international protection for people fleeing persecution and different forms of violence is guaranteed."

Given the mixed migration flows that are evident in the region and in order to respond appropriately to the increasing number of people fleeing their home countries by sea as a result of various forms of violence or in search of better living conditions, the Commission calls upon all States that carry out operations of search, rescue and interception of migrants at sea to establish appropriate measures to identify persons who may be refugees or who, due to their vulnerable condition, may have special protection needs, such as in the case of migrant children. The Commission also reminds States that the principle of non-refoulement is absolute in international human rights law, under which it is required to be guaranteed at all times and in all places regardless of the migratory situation of persons or the applicability or not of another protection regime.

The IACHR also urges States to establish mechanisms at national and regional levels to allow for the prompt identification of migrants aboard these vessels, including the identification of the remains of those who died or are missing, as well as to inform their families about their status and whereabouts.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 55/14