For Haitians deported from the US, an unlikely welcome-home committee
Haitian volunteers, including former criminal deportees, help new arrivals in a land many find hard to negotiate.
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Jacques-Riché says there is one group in Haiti that embraces deportees: "The thugs respect you ... they think you're really a big time criminal," he says, "even if you don't want nothing to do with them."Skip to next paragraph
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In recent years, word on the Haitian street commonly blamed a rise in violent crime on deportees. Human rights groups disputed such claims, but it is clear to all sides that without assistance, many deportees lack the capacity to become productive members of society.
For the past two years, the UN and US have funded an IOM program to provide job assistance to new arrivals. It reached more than 1,000 deportees and was praised by US government officials. It is soon to be replicated in Guyana and the Bahamas, while funding for the Haiti program remains on hold, placing a greater burden on deportee associations.
Hurdles for those trying to help
In spite of weekly meetings with officials, CARDH is barely recognized by government officials. Back at the police station, the volunteers enter the front room as the buses of new arrivals arrive, but they are soon kicked out of the building. So, as young men file in, the volunteers peer through the windows and ask who needs help.
Men approach and describe their situations. Some have a place to stay, but they don't know for how long. One was born in the Bahamas to Haitian parents and has never before set foot in Haiti.
By the end of the day, the volunteers have signed three deportees out of police custody and taken one, the Bahamian, home with them.
Meanwhile, at another police station, Joel Auguste is trying to procure the release of two jailed deportees. Mr. Auguste says unjustified arrests of deportees are common here because corrupt police see opportunity.
"They know it takes one call to the United States and money's coming soon because Ma don't want us to stay in jail in Haiti," he says. In this case, the two men are released, but only after paying several hundred dollars.
In 2000, Auguste founded one of Haiti's first deportee associations, called FONHFARA, or Haitian Foundation of Returnees' Families. His group's public awareness campaign is credited with the shift in recent years away from automatic incarceration of new arrivals.
Auguste and other FONHFARA volunteers are entirely supported by remittances. Because of the recession, some members say that they are already receiving less money from the US.
Auguste, however, is hopeful. His immediate goal is to raise $2,000 to pay next month's rent for the organization's office. FONHFARA's long-term goal is to open a center that provides shelter, food, clothing, job training, Bible study, and counseling.
In short, Auguste says, "FONHFARA's dream is for us to be received as human beings."