In the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake, approximately 200,000 displaced Haitians crossed into the Dominican Republic in search of medical assistance, job opportunities, family reunification and relief from the post-disaster conditions in Haiti.
Since then, many have chosen to return to Haiti. The IOM Assisted Voluntary Return Program or AVR, carried out in coordination with the Dominican Republic's General Directorate of Migration (DGM by its Spanish acronym) and the Dominican Ministry of Interior and Police, is providing a genuine lifeline for these migrants.
Jean Philippe Antolin, Manager of IOM's Assisted Voluntary Return Programme in the Dominican Republic explains why these Haitian migrants are eagerly returning to their country. "The fact is that these are very low income people - 90 per cent of them have no education. Many have been here since January 2010 or longer, but still have no access to education because they live in remote areas. Health care is very difficult, because although they have access to health, they do not have the money to buy the medicines. There is no access to income generating activities, no jobs."
Working with Casa Caribe, Hermanas Juanistas and AMURTEL, three experienced NGO partners, IOM has carried out registration in 23 points in the Dominican Republic and return to 31 points inside Haiti.
Maria Paredes, IOM Field Coordinator for the Assisted Voluntary Return Programme, says: "The IOM team doesn't just come to the field to register them; the IOM team interviews each person or family, we explain the programme, we get to know their situation, we verify their story, and once this process is completed, then we proceed with the actual registration."
The AVR process - identification, registration, movement, reception and reintegration - begins with a meeting with potential returnees to explain the programme. IOM staff emphasize that everyone can change their mind on going back home at any time.
Since the programme began in September 2010 with funding from the U.S. State Department, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), IOM has assisted 1,721 persons to return to their places of origin in Haiti.
Currently the programme is focusing on helping the especially vulnerable Haitian migrants - those who are in a desperate situation, who do not have access to food or education.
IOM expects to assist another 1,000 persons. But the demand is so great that IOM is actively seeking funding to continue the voluntary return programme.
On the scheduled day for return, IOM ensures that the returnees are accompanied by Creole-speaking staff on every stage of the process, which includes escort and assistance in clearing customs and border controls, transportation assistance to their final destination in Haiti.
IOM also issues beneficiary identification to be used in accessing reintegration services in Haiti, a stipend of US$50 per beneficiary for initial costs, a stipend of US$65 per child delivered to every mother to support child maintenance, in addition to providing awareness-raising on cholera-prevention and Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS), soap, and water purification sachets. On behalf of IOM, NGOs deliver education grants of up to US$150 per child of schooling age which is paid directly to schools.
Once back home, during the reintegration stage, returnees receive access to business training and capital (US$200 per adult) to start a micro-enterprise (sums vary according to the number of adults and/or children in each household), as well as access to an income generation scheme supported by IOM and operated by IOM counterparts. Follow-up is carried out by IOM partner NGOs and/or IOM staff.
Antolin adds: "Many of the micro-enterprises have become quite successful with participants now able to make investments in other assets, such as goats and chickens. They have started businesses selling clothing, shoes, raw and prepared foods, and other goods. And some beneficiaries have joined forces in order to expand their business possibilities."
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