Friday, September 18, 2009

3 drowned Haitian migrants honored at North Miami Beach funeral

Fri, Sep. 18, 2009

3 drowned Haitian migrants honored at North Miami Beach funeral


(Read the original article here)

The bodies of three Haitian migrant women who drowned when the boat they were in capsized four months ago off Palm Beach County were buried Friday in North Miami Beach.

In a morning service attended by about a dozen or so activists, office seekers and a local councilwoman, the three women -- whose bodies went unclaimed at the Palm Beach County morgue -- were each given a name: Life, Courage and Hope. They were buried at Southern Memorial Park in North Miami Beach.

``Today, with this interfaith service, we finally lay the bodies of these three women to rest here in the United States, the land that they so bravely traveled to but heartbreakingly died before reaching,'' Danna Magloire, an attorney with the Haitian Women of Miami, said at St. Fort's Funeral Home.

The three women -- believed to have been in their 20s -- were among at least nine migrants who died when their boat capsized off Boyton Beach around May 13 when a smuggling operation went sour. Sixteen survivors were pulled from the water.

Federal authorities later charged the boat's captain and another man with migrant smuggling resulting in death. The smuggling suspects were allegedly paid thousands of dollars for the journey, which was supposed to go from Nassau to Bimini and then to Miami. If convicted, the pair face life in prison, though prosecutors could choose to seek the death penalty.

An 8-month-old girl also died in the accident. Immigration authorities in August released her parents so they could bury her.

At Friday morning's service, three copper-color caskets, one blanketed with Haiti's red-and-blue flag, were on display. Still images of the U.S. Coast Guard picking up Haitian migrants at sea and of earlier boating accidents flashed across a screen.

The front row -- usually reserved for family members -- was empty of relatives.

Organizers said the bulk of the survivors hailed from the northern town of Port-de-Paix and assumed the three women hailed from there as well.

One man -- a family service counselor at the cemetery -- spoke about how the accident resonated with him.

``I told my cousin, `Any of the women could be my cousin,' '' said W. Robert Fertile, a Port-de-Paix native who said he took a boat himself by way of the Bahamas in 1982. ``To see these women, I thought: `It could've been me.' ''

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