Haiti

Unaccompanied migrant children stay in a quarantine transit center

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© UNICEF Haiti/2020/Edler

To reduce the risk of trafficking and abuse, UNICEF and its partners, thanks to financial support from the European Union, provide information to those who decide to cross, especially people with children.

It is with great enthusiasm that Abéllite Éli, 16, is preparing to leave the Ouanaminthe emergency quarantine center in northeastern Haiti, where he stayed with his 14-year-old younger brother. Although a little sad, he seems excited and happy to say goodbye to his new friends. “When I am gone, I’ll remember everyone, all my friends and especially my best friend, Jadot. I will miss him very much,” he said with a smile.

Abéllite was born in the Dominican Republic where he went to primary school. His mother brought him and his brother to Port-au-Prince to visit their father. When leaving, the adolescent realized that he did not have their travel documents. "Coming to Haiti, we had our papers, but our mom left with them in her briefcase, without realizing it. That’s why we tried to go through the woods,” he said, playing football with his brother and friend Jadot. With the help of a smuggler, the two adolescents tried to cross through one of the 43 unofficial points along the border. After being stopped at the border they were received by Institute of Social Welfare and Research (IBESR) personnel and taken to the Ouanaminthe emergency transit center.

With more than 75% of migrants using it, it is always brisk business at the Ouanaminthe official border. People and goods come and go. However, most children cross the border at unofficial points, according to Alexandra Onidia of Sisters of Saint Jean Evangeliste (SSJE), an organisation partnering with UNICEF. “When they are stopped by the Haitian or Dominican authorities, children are referred to our centers," she added. To reduce the risk of trafficking and abuse, UNICEF and its partners, thanks to financial support from the European Union, provide information to those who decide to cross, especially people with children.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, SSJE agents are raising awareness in border villages using megaphones, boom boxes and radio messages to reach vulnerable migrants. With funding from the European Union, IBESR and SSJE have set up an emergency transit center for unaccompanied migrant children. Children stay there for 14 days for medical and psychosocial follow-up, before being reunited with their families, placed with a foster family or in another temporary child transit center. “Upon arrival, children are brought to the hospital for medical check-up. During their stay, a nurse and a social worker watch over them day and night,” explained Remy Occéan, IBESR Director for the North East.

62 children have stayed at the center in the past two months. At the entrance, visitors wash their hands with chlorinated water, and indoors, both children and adults must wear a mask. Barrier methods are respected, as the posters on the walls remind everyone. “Not everyone is admitted to this center. Visitors must always have a valid reason for entering to ensure the protection of the children, and they must always wear a mask, for fear of contaminating children. We strictly monitor COVID-19 barrier methods”, explained SSJE’s Claudain Souverain.

Abéllite and her little brother will soon leave the center. Their mother has just arrived, and after showing documents proving that she is the legal guardian of the children, an IBESR social worker has authorized her to leave with them. “I am happy with my stay here. I take my bath on time, I eat at regular hours and I sleep well. I say thank you for everything and hope that you’ll continue helping children who are in the same situation as mine,” he concluded.