Story by Daniele Pagani, Regional Information Officer for Latin America and the Caribbean, EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations
Ouanaminthe is one of the busiest border crossings between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Every day, thousands of Haitians cross it to look for work, visit their families or simply purchase goods at a cheaper rate. In times of coronavirus, this massive and continuous movement of people poses a threat to Haiti’s fragile healthcare system. EU humanitarian aid funds screening centres on all border crossings to curb the spread of the virus.
The Dominican Republic has been one of the hardest-hit countries in the Caribbean and monitoring the border is imperative to avoid an uncontrolled spread of the virus.
In 2020, the European Union allocated €3.9 million of humanitarian funding to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Haiti: €3.1 million to strengthen the coronavirus response on the borders and €800,000 to assisting forcefully repatriated migrants.
They swiftly adapted their expertise and operations to set up – in coordination with Haitian authorities and the WHO – screening centres on all border crossings where returning Haitians can undertake a rapid test.
Citizens identified as potential positive cases must undertake a PCR test. They are asked to wait for the results in one of the EU-funded quarantine centres, where they receive information, psychological support, 3 meals a day, and a hygiene kit.
To raise awareness about the basic measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, IOM Haiti invited local artists to paint murals located on the main border crossings to ensure they were visible to all those crossing.
The coronavirus pandemic came as an additional blow to the already fragile Haiti, which has been hostage to a longstanding economic crisis, making it the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that 4.4 million people – almost half of Haiti’s population – are currently in need of humanitarian aid. The EU has channelled €14 million in humanitarian funding. This will support its partner organisations working to support the most vulnerable in the island nation.
Despite the lack of working opportunities, many Haitians have been resourceful in setting up small businesses and proactively finding a way to earn a living. Being resourceful is unfortunately not always enough and many have no other option than to seek a better future abroad.
They often embark on life-threatening journeys through unofficial routes and find themselves in foreign countries, living as irregular migrants in constant fear of being forcibly repatriated.
Since June 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, more than 2,000 Haitians have been forcibly repatriated.
In 2021, forced repatriation of Haitian has accelerated, with more than 1,500 people repatriated in the first 3 months of the year, mainly from the United States, Bahamas, and Turks and Caicos.
Most migrants forcefully returned to Haiti find themselves in a situation worse than the one they left, with no money and no opportunities. They often do not necessarily know their legal rights as deportees and risk being misled.
Thanks to their local institutional network, IOM receives information on the arrival of deportees and can promptly send their teams. This way, those forcibly repatriated receive the assistance they need.
EU funding ensures that as soon as a Haitian deportee reaches the country, the IOM can intervene. They provide legal advice, psychological support, a hygiene kit and enough cash for their return.