Sunday, October 5, 2008

President Préval: Haiti Needs Help, Not U.S. Deportees

Four tropical storms this summer have left Haiti unable to accept U.S. deportees, President René Préval says.


Haitian President René Préval said Friday that his storm-ravaged country will no longer be able to accept U.S. deportees and, for the first time, publicly called on the Bush administration to let undocumented Haitians stay in the United States until their homeland recovers.

''Haiti will no longer be able to receive the deported individuals that the United States sends us on a regular basis,'' Préval said in his closing address at the Americas Conference in Coral Gables.

''This is the occasion for the United States administration to put in place for Haitians the benefit of TPS, the Temporary Protected Status, that has already been granted to other countries in the region, such as El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua,'' he said.

After Hurricane Mitch in 1998, Washington granted the Central American countries TPS and it was recently renewed.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement last month temporarily halted deportations to Haiti but said it would review its decision on a daily basis. The relief is not TPS, a designation approved by Congress in 1990 for foreign nationals fleeing civil war and natural disasters.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security declined to comment late Friday on Préval's request.

In an attempt to slow deportations, Haitian government officials in the United States have said they stopped issuing travel documents to deportees after last month's Hurricane Ike.

After refusing for two years to ask for TPS for Haitians, Préval sent Bush a two-page letter on Feb. 7 requesting a deportation reprieve. Préval said he plans to make another formal written request in the coming days and had made a personal request to President Bush. But Friday's public plea was a first for Préval, who has been criticized for not speaking out to seek help for Haiti.

''Without losing his pride, he needs to reach out and ask for help. He needs to have a plan,'' Miami Haitian activist Marleine Bastien said. ``The conditions the Haitian people are living in right now demand it.

''He needs to be more visible on the international scene. He's the commander in chief. He has the responsibility to bring the pains and suffering of this people forward,'' she said

Préval's TPS plea came during a rare appearance in South Florida. The day before, he visited Haiti's northwest port city of Gonaives, which remains encased in mud weeks after Tropical Storm Hanna submerged it.

He repeated his call at a meeting Friday night with more than 50 Haitian community activists. He shared firsthand knowledge of the food shortage and other humanitarian issues facing Haiti because of the natural disasters.

''Now we are in an emergency,'' he told the audience.

Haitian community activists are planning a vigil for TPS on Saturday evening at Notre Dame d'Haiti Catholic Church in Little Haiti.

At the Americas Conference, Préval said that while he had seen TV images and read the reports on the storm damage, nothing prepared him for the sight and smell of the devastation. On Friday, Haitian authorities increased the official toll to 793 dead and 310 missing.

Préval called on Haitians and friends of Haiti to assist the country in its reconstruction, saying the four back-to-back storms in three weeks had set the country back several years and ``compromised our chance for development.''

Haiti, he said, doesn't need just financial aid but investments of capital, expertise and desire to help the country. The two hurricanes and two tropical storms collapsed major roads and bridges, destroyed more than $180 million in crops and left hundreds of thousands homeless.

''Haitians are hardworking and they need to be in conditions where they can produce. We need help to create those conditions so that we can return to real production,'' he said. ``We need investments to rebuild our infrastructure through international assistance but also by mobilizing support in Haiti and abroad.''

The United Nations, which issued a $108 million urgent appeal on behalf of Haiti shortly after the hurricanes, has had a hard time attracting support. So far, only 17 percent has been collected, prompting Préval to say that he was worried that ``we will find ourselves alone or almost alone in the face of action.''

''We need to organize assistance, and I also ask that you take measures . . . to appeal for the TPS and do what you can to push for this flash appeal by the United Nations. . . . Also do what you can to help rebuild Haiti. I know that the Haitian Diaspora can mobilize itself,'' he said.

Préval encouraged Haitians living abroad to come back and contribute. ''We are waiting for you,'' he said.

In the wake of the U.S. financial crisis, the presidential elections and Hurricane Ike hitting Galveston, Texas, Haiti has struggled to remain in focus.

Stressing the need for TPS, Préval said the plea was important for Haiti -- not just for Haitian families living in the United States who send more than $1.6 billion annually to relatives on the island -- an important part of the country's gross domestic product.

''These people come [home] and do not find work,'' Préval said of deported Haitians. ``They would represent too heavy of a burden on the Haitian budget.''

Source: MiamiHerald.Com

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