At least 11 people have been killed and 31 others rescued after a boat capsized near Puerto Rico

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – A boat carrying suspected migrants sank north of an uninhabited island off Puerto Rico, killing 11 people and confirming 31 others were rescued Thursday, authorities said.

Ricardo Castrodad, a spokesman for the US Coast Guard, said it was not immediately clear how many people were on board when the boat capsized. He said a “mass rescue effort” was still ongoing.

“We want to rescue as many people as possible and try to find as many survivors as possible,” he said.

At least eight Haitians were taken to hospital, although the nationalities of all on board were not immediately known.

On Thursday morning, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter spotted the capsized boat.

“If it weren’t for that, we wouldn’t have known about it until someone found a sign or got a report from their loved ones missing,” Castrodad said. “They found them early enough that we were able to coordinate a response.”

The boat was spotted 11 miles (18 kilometers) north of the uninhabited island of Desechio off the west coast of Puerto Rico.

The incident is the latest in a series of disasters across the region as migrants from Haiti and the Dominican Republic flee violence and poverty in their home countries.

On Saturday, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Dominican Navy rescued 68 migrants in Mona Passage, a treacherous area between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. A Haitian woman has died, Castro said.

“This voyage is dangerous,” Castro said. “They are insecure, they are grossly overloaded … (and) there are no life-saving tools. It won’t take long for any of these ships to sink. “

From October to March 2021, 571 Haitians and 252 people from the Dominican Republic were detained in the waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Most Haitians, 348 of them, landed and were rescued on the uninhabited island of Mona in Puerto Rico.

In fiscal year 2021, 310 Haitians and 354 Dominicans were detained, compared to 22 Haitians and 313 Dominicans arrested in fiscal year 2020.

The U.S. Coast Guard, meanwhile, said it had detained 1,527 Haitians, 838 Cubans and 742 Florida and Caribbean from the Dominican Republic in the fiscal year ended September 30.

Since then, human trafficking boats have increased, authorities say.

In January, the Coast Guard found at least 38 people missing off the coast of Florida in a suspected human trafficking boat that sank off the Bahamas. Only one survivor was reported.

Hundreds of Haitians have come to Florida alone in recent months after swimming ashore.

Haiti is battling an escalation of gang-related violence that has killed dozens of people, including women and children, and forced thousands of families to flee their homes. The abduction of eight Turkish nationals, who were forcibly removed from a bus in the Dominican Republic on Sunday, also increased.

Kidnappings of more than 11 million people have risen by 180% and homicides by 17% in the past year, according to the United Nations, which last week expressed concern about the “rapid deterioration of security and human rights” in Haiti.

Many have criticized the administration of US President Joe Biden for deporting more than 20,000 Haitians in recent months due to the country’s deep unrest.

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