Over 200 Haitian Migrants, Once Feared Drowned, Returned to Haiti From Cuba

More than 200 Haitian migrants who were feared drowned during an ill-fated attempt to sail to Florida have been returned home from Cuba, a Haitian government official said Friday.

They left Haiti in rough seas caused by Hurricane Michelle in early November aboard two boats, one with 63 passengers and the other with at least 150. Relatives feared the ships had capsized.

"The people we thought were lost at sea landed in Cuba," said Carol Joseph, director of the National Migration Office. They were kept in a refugee camp before being flown back to Haiti Thursday and Friday, he said.

There were about 2,000 known departures of migrants in U.S.-bound boats in November and December, twice the usual number for the period, said Joseph. Some 700 landed in Cuba.

Officials fear Haiti's increasingly desperate economic situation will prompt a growing number of Haitians to try the risk-fraught voyages.

Haiti has been mired in crisis since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's party won 80 percent of seats in parliamentary elections last year that the opposition alleges were rigged. Hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid have been frozen until some results are revised.