The Miami Herald Posted on Wed, May. 12, 2010 Haiti’s neighbors pull back welcome mat

   Port Antonio: 33 Haitians were sent back to Haiti Sunday afternoon on  the Jamaica Defence Force Coast Guard Cornwall. The group includes the  31 that landed at Holland Bay, St. Thomas Saturday April, 10, 2010 about  3:00 p.m., who were taken to Port Antonio later that evening to the  Port Antonio Health Centre and then to the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
Port Antonio: 33 Haitians were sent back to Haiti Sunday afternoon on the Jamaica Defence Force Coast Guard Cornwall. The group includes the 31 that landed at Holland Bay, St. Thomas Saturday April, 10, 2010 about 3:00 p.m., who were taken to Port Antonio later that evening to the Port Antonio Health Centre and then to the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
Emmanuel Geurrier and 30 fellow Haitian quake survivors took to the sea last month with pretty much any port in mind.“In Haiti, people are sleeping in the street and in the roadside, and I don’t want to stay in a country where I have to live like a dog,” he said Thursday, while in immigration custody in Jamaica. “I took a boat and said, `I go anywhere!’ Then I see Jamaica.

“Maybe I can stay.”

On Sunday, three days after speaking to The Miami Herald about the challenges of living in Haiti after the quake, Geurrier was sent home. He is one of hundreds of Haitians who have landed on Caribbean shores in the four months since a 7.0-magnitude earthquake rattled the nation, killing an estimated 300,000 and displacing some 1.3 million people.

And while nations such as Jamaica and the Bahamas initially announced compassionate gestures toward their Caribbean neighbor, the welcome mat has been yanked. Fearing a deluge of Haitian migrants, Jamaica and the Bahamas — like the United States — have renewed repatriation policies for migrants captured at sea that were in place before the quake.

Haitian migrants have not swarmed the waters as many had feared, but officials are wary that the upcoming hurricane season will flood Port-au-Prince settlements and push people to take desperate measures.

Geurrier, who had been deported from Jamaica before, landed on the country’s northeast coast on April 10. His group followed another boat of 62 migrants that had already been repatriated, including a handful of escaped prisoners.

But the second group included 11 children and a pregnant woman who gave birth three days after landing, raising issues about whether the mother and her Jamaican-born infant named Francisca should be allowed to stay.


The group was held in custody at a Port Antonio Seventh Day Adventist Church, where policemen kept watch and local volunteers helped care for them. The Jamaican government paid the bill while locals combed the ladies’ hair, brought in food and played with the kids.

One migrant, a tailor, was given a sewing machine to help pass the time while others played cards.

“We don’t have anything against Haitians; we’d like to help,” said Orane Bailey, senior policy director for border security at the Jamaican Ministry of National Security. “But we can’t keep this up too long. That’s the message we would like to send.”

The tab to house and feed the group grew to $2,500 a day, he said. The government spent $12,000 on medical care alone.

He noted that the first group of migrants included 16 people who had been deported from Jamaica before. The second group had nine.

“There are genuine refugees from the earthquake, and there are smugglers,” he said. “It’s a very challenging situation, but there are people who would like to exploit the situation of the earthquake.”

The Bahamian prime minister came under fire when shortly after the quake he released Haitian migrants who had been in custody, because with Port-au-Prince air and sea ports destroyed, there was no reasonable method to deport people.

“A couple of weeks ago, when we were confident things had settled down, we lifted the temporary cessation of repatriations,” Bahamian Immigration Minister Brent Symonette said. “We have repatriated a couple of hundred. That’s normal routine.”

The Turks and Caicos repatriated 124 people who arrived on one boat shortly after the quake. But the number of migrants there has not swelled, because Haitians who arrive there generally hail from Cap Haitiën, which is in the north and was not affected by the tremors.

Turks was also hit hard by Hurricane Ike and no longer has the construction jobs Haitians seek.

“From our standpoint, there hasn’t been an increase. One of the reasons that is so is because of the presence of the U.S. Coast Guard surrounding Haiti,” said Clara Gardiner, permanent secretary for the Turks and Caicos Border Control and Labor. “The Coast Guard essentially had Haiti on lockdown.”

Within three days of the Jan. 12 quake, the U.S. Coast Guard sent 10 ships to Haiti.

So far this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, 555 Haitians have been interdicted at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard. Some 1,782 were interdicted last year.

On Tuesday, the Coast Guard repatriated an overloaded vessel in international waters north of Cuba which carried 105 Haitians.

The U.S. Border Patrol reports a 15 percent decline in the number of Haitians caught making land.

Since the quake, 43 Haitians have been arrested for entering the country illegally, compared to 51 last year.

U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said the number of Haitians caught at sea is up now, but down historically.

The numbers may rise more, he said, when rain during hurricane season — it starts June 1 — begins flooding survivor camps. With that threat imminent, neighbor nations are eager to send the message that any new migrants will be sent home.

“The repatriation was a bit surprising, because the prime minister had said he was prepared to help,” said Max Alce, charge d’affaires at the Haitian Embassy in Kingston. “I think that’s why they came: They took the prime minister at his word.”


Jamaican Minister of Information Daryl Vaz said people misunderstood Prime Minister Bruce Golding when he said, “We will not turn our backs” on quake survivors. He meant Jamaica would not turn Haitians back — at sea, Vaz said.

They are allowed entry, processed and given medical attention before being repatriated, Vaz said.

“They did land, and we provided help,” Vaz said. “We are not in the position to sustain that.”

Jamaica expected the international community to help pay to house Haitian migrants, and that money never arrived, he said.

“The government is saying that it takes a lot to take care of them, but I think they can take care of themselves,” said Easton Dixon, the church deacon who housed the migrants. “People are willing to take them in and give them work on farms. If the government were to say `Does anyone want them?’ you would be surprised: in half a day, everyone would have a home.”

Dixon grew attached to the infant Francisca and started the paperwork to adopt her. But her mother, Rose-Mitha Jeanty, who had been told she could stay in Jamaica with her child, changed her mind when she learned she was being sent back to Haiti.

“It was so sad,” Dixon said. “All of them were crying, even the men. They were saying that they don’t have nowhere to go; they have no house — even the people with the baby.”


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