Haitian migrants in Amazonia, the end of a journey and the beginning of a new life
Bogotá, 7 May 2012 – More than 350 Haitians, stranded for three months in the rural Brazilian border province of Tabatinga, began arriving in Manaus, the capital of Amazonia.
Their arrival marked the end of their journey from Haiti to Brazil, having passed through Bolivia, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Peru, among other South American countries. The arrival in Manaus also marked the end of a long and painful wait of more than three months in a secluded province in the heart of Amazonia.
Between 14 and 23 April, the Haitians travelled in three groups from Tabatinga port to Manaus after being granted access by federal police to the refugee determination process. The official document entitles them to enter the country legally, apply for a temporary work permit and possibly receive permanent residence in the future.
On 5 April, the justice minister, José Eduardo Cardozo, announced the decision of President Dilma Rousseff to permit the entrance of 245 Haitians stranded in Iñapari, Peru, and another 363 Haitians stranded in Tabatinga; the latter having crossed in Brazil territory in mid-January last.
Despite the difficult humanitarian situation facing migrants at both borders, the Brazilian administration had bluntly refused to allow them to enter the country. After extensive lobbying by local mayors in Brazil and Peru, as well as churches, human rights NGOs and migrant associations in various countries throughout the continent, the Brazilian government finally relented and granted the Haitians the right to enter the country.
The decision extended benefits of the previous resolution on 13 January 2012 to Haitians who had been stranded on Brazilian borders. Issued by the National Brazilian Immigration department (CNIg), the resolution regularised the status of all Haitians who had entered the country irregularly before 12 January 2012.
Arrival in Manaus. Upon arrival in Manaus, the Haitians were welcomed and a census was taken by the pastoral immigration service of the Archdiocese of Manaus, offering them basic information on how to complete the process of regularisation and how to secure a job and housing.
Given that the vast majority of Haitian arrivals had nowhere to live – particularly those in the most vulnerable circumstances, such as pregnant women and families with children – they were housed in churches and other centres throughout the city. The migrants were also provided with humanitarian assistance, psychosocial support and other services.
Civil society organisations are doing everything in their power, with the limited funds at their disposal, to house the more than 4,600 Haitians now living in Manaus city. Among these groups, the Jesuit province of Amazonia has recently opened its Pro-Haitian Service office.
Pro-Haitian Service, a volunteer-based group which includes one Creole-speaking Haitian, provides a translation service for Haitians dealing with public and private institutions. They also provide psychosocial support services to Haitians who need just need to talk about their problems, experiences in their own language.
Although the authorities have regularised the migration status of the Haitians, additional measures promoting their integration have not yet been taken. Unable to speak Portuguese, the challenge of protecting this group and offering them an opportunity to live in dignity remains.
Since the 12 January 2010 earthquake devastated their country, Haitians have fled throughout South America, including Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Venezuela and French Guyana. In response, most countries have tightened their immigration policies, increasing requirements to obtain work and study permits. Brazil and Bolivia have closed their borders; Peru has imposed visa requirements on Haitians entering their territory; Chile and Ecuador have begun deporting forced migrants upon arrival at airports back to their countries of origin.
These movements of Haitians have been made possible for the most part by smuggler networks. Such networks charge between 3,000 and 5,000 US dollars, making false promises of employment, scholarships and even trips to Europe and the US.
These migration flows have increased since many Caribbean islands, including Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, continue to deport Haitians fortunate enough to survive the journey. Moreover, the situation for Haitians in the Dominican Republic has also worsened due to continued deportation, discrimination and other human rights violations.
Consequently, South America is becoming an increasingly important destination for forced Haitian migrants.
Wooldy Edson Louidor Regional Advocacy and Communications Coordinator for Haiti Jesuit Refugee Service Latin America and the Caribbean