Plea of Haitian children especially troublesome
WASHINGTON (September 27, 2010)-Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, head of the U.S. bishops Haiti Advisory Group, introduced September 27, the report "The Displaced of Haiti: Long-Term Challenges and Needed Solutions" on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Mission to Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and the Bahamas.
"As we saw from the storms that hit Port-Au-Prince over the weekend, Haiti is still in a fragile state," Archbishop Wenski said. "Nearly nine months after the earthquake, 1.3 million persons remain homeless, living in tent camps, and clean-up and reconstruction efforts proceed at a very slow pace. Despite the outpouring of support from the international community in the aftermath of the disaster, attention to the long-term recovery of Haiti has begun to lag. Full assistance to help the country rebuild has yet to be delivered, and displaced Haitians, particularly vulnerable children, remain in dangerous situations."
The U.S. bishops' delegation found the plea of Haitian children especially troublesome.
"While there are some innovative and promising child protective initiatives, there is no comprehensive approach to prevent family separation, smuggling and trafficking across the border, and support safe return and reintegration and durable solutions for children," said Todd Scribner, USCCB Migration and Refugee Services education coordinator.
Thousands of Haitian children live in hundreds of "orphanages" or "child-care centers" in and around Port-au-Prince. Some lost their parents; in many other cases, parents who cannot care for their children will often leave them there. Children in Haiti are also vulnerable to exploitation, particularly to the restavek system, a practice in which a child is sent to work for another family with the hope that the child will have access to an education, or at least food and shelter. Instead, the child often finds a life of domestic servitude and slave-like conditions. There also is evidence that Haitian children are being trafficked into the Dominican Republic to work in agriculture, beg on the streets, or perform domestic work, yet little is being done to apprehend and prosecute traffickers.
Other USCCB findings include:
* Recovery and reconstruction efforts are proceeding slowly, leaving Haiti's displaced, both inside the country and outside, at grave risk;
* After an initial generous response, nations in the region, including the United States, are beginning to pull back the welcome mat for Haitians displaced because of the earthquake;
* Haitian children remain in danger, subject to difficult living conditions, domestic servitude, and human trafficking;
* Haitian families are divided and policies pursued both by Haiti and surrounding nations, including the United States, have not been designed to reunite them; and
* Interdiction and deportation policies toward Haitians in the region continue or have resumed, despite the fragile state of the recovery effort in Haiti.
The U.S. Bishops' delegation also made the following recommendations:
* The United States and other nations must provide reconstruction funds in a timely manner and assist the Haitian government in rebuilding the country, including a plan for re-location or return of the displaced to homes;
* Family tracing efforts for orphans must be increased and best interest determinations for Haitian orphans in Haiti and the Dominican Republic should be introduced;
* The United States should liberalize immigration policies toward Haitians, including the reunification of the families of medical evacuees, a re-designation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians who arrived after January 12, 2010, and humanitarian parole for Haitian family members who have been approved for a U.S. visa but await a priority date;
* Efforts should be increased to protect children and women along the Haiti-Dominican Republic border to minimize the incidence of human trafficking; and
* U.S. interdiction policies toward Haitians should include proactive asylum screening; the United States should urge the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas to cease deportations of Haitians until the recovery and reconstruction of Haiti progresses and new homes are built or identified.
Archbishop Wenski and other members of the delegation, which included Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, Maria Odom, executive director of CLINIC (Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.), Mary DeLorey, strategic issues advisor for Catholic Relief Services, and staff from the USCCB offices of Migration and Refugees Services and International Justice and Peace, made a plea for the international community not to forget Haiti.
"The United States and the international community must re-focus their attention on Haiti to help ensure that the Haitian people maintain hope and that the situation in Haiti does not deteriorate," the archbishop said. "This includes ensuring that needed recovery and reconstruction funds are delivered and used properly; that civil society is included in planning efforts, and, importantly, that Haitian families are reunited and vulnerable Haitians, such as children, receive protection."
He added that "The United States must work with [Haiti's] neighboring countries, such as the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas" and "must revisit U.S. migration policies, so that Haitians are not returned to Haiti prematurely and that families are kept together."