Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Haiti's Neighbors Pull Back Welcome Mat


Haitians who travel illegally to nearby nations are being deported as leaders try to avoid mass migration.

PORT ANTONIO, Jamaica -- Emmanuel Geurrier and 30 fellow Haitian quake survivors took to the sea last month with pretty much any port in mind.

``In Haiti, people are sleeping in the street and in the roadside, and I don't want to stay in a country where I have to live like a dog,'' he said Thursday, while in immigration custody in Jamaica. ``I took a boat and said, `I go anywhere!' Then I see Jamaica.

``Maybe I can stay.''

On Sunday, three days after speaking to The Miami Herald about the challenges of living in Haiti after the quake, Geurrier was sent home. He is one of hundreds of Haitians who have landed on Caribbean shores in the four months since a 7.0-magnitude earthquake rattled the nation, killing an estimated 300,000 and displacing some 1.3 million people.

And while nations such as Jamaica and the Bahamas initially announced compassionate gestures toward their Caribbean neighbor, the welcome mat has been yanked. Fearing a deluge of Haitian migrants, Jamaica and the Bahamas -- like the United States -- have renewed repatriation policies for migrants captured at sea that were in place before the quake.

Haitian migrants have not swarmed the waters as many had feared, but officials are wary that the upcoming hurricane season will flood Port-au-Prince settlements and push people to take desperate measures.

Geurrier, who had been deported from Jamaica before, landed on the country's northeast coast on April 10. His group followed another boat of 62 migrants that had already been repatriated, including a handful of escaped prisoners.

But the second group included 11 children and a pregnant woman who gave birth three days after landing, raising issues about whether the mother and her Jamaican-born infant named Francisca should be allowed to stay.


The group was held in custody at a Port Antonio Seventh Day Adventist Church, where policemen kept watch and local volunteers helped care for them. The Jamaican government paid the bill while locals combed the ladies' hair, brought in food and played with the kids.

One migrant, a tailor, was given a sewing machine to help pass the time while others played cards.

``We don't have anything against Haitians; we'd like to help,'' said Orane Bailey, senior policy director for border security at the Jamaican Ministry of National Security. ``But we can't keep this up too long. That's the message we would like to send.''

The tab to house and feed the group grew to $2,500 a day, he said. The government spent $12,000 on medical care alone.

He noted that the first group of migrants included 16 people who had been deported from Jamaica before. The second group had nine.

``There are genuine refugees from the earthquake, and there are smugglers,'' he said. ``It's a very challenging situation, but there are people who would like to exploit the situation of the earthquake.''

The Bahamian prime minister came under fire when shortly after the quake he released Haitian migrants who had been in custody, because with Port-au-Prince air and sea ports destroyed, there was no reasonable method to deport people.

``A couple of weeks ago, when we were confident things had settled down, we lifted the temporary cessation of repatriations,'' Bahamian Immigration Minister Brent Symonette said. ``We have repatriated a couple of hundred. That's normal routine.''

The Turks and Caicos repatriated 124 people who arrived on one boat shortly after the quake. But the number of migrants there has not swelled, because Haitians who arrive there generally hail from Cap Haitiën, which is in the north and was not affected by the tremors.


Source: MiamiHerald

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