Waves of Haitians risk treacherous sea voyage to find a better life

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The number of Haitians who have attempted to migrate through unofficial routes to neighboring countries by boat increased dramatically in 2021. They are being driven by economic hardship, insecurity and a recent earthquake, to look for what they think it’s a better life.

“I was trying to reach the Turks and Caicos Islands, but my boat capsized at sea. If there were any opportunities to start my own business, I would stay in Haiti.

The story of ‘Jacques’ (not her real name), a 32-year-old father from Limonade on the north coast of Haiti is perhaps typical of the growing number of people trying to leave the Caribbean country in an uninformed manner. official and without proper papers.

Many travel on overcrowded and dilapidated boats in the hope of reaching neighboring countries like the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas. From there, some try to continue to the United States.

The true magnitude of the number of people leaving Haiti is difficult to calculate with precision: however, the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) says the Haitian coast guard intercepted at least 224 migrants at sea in 2020. and 605 in 2021.

And in October 2021 some 1,194 migrants, mostly men trying to reach Miami in the US state of Florida, were repatriated to Haiti. They had disembarked after their boat ran out of fuel and experienced engine problems in southern Cuba, where they had been stopped by authorities.

“A growing number of migrants from Haiti are making the perilous journey by sea in the hope of reaching another country,” said Claire Gaulin, IOM’s project manager for migrant assistance.

“They are motivated by a number of factors, including insecurity, lack of jobs and other opportunities at home. In some cases, people have left because their property or livelihood was destroyed by the earthquake that hit the southwest of the country in August. They all have one thing in common, ”she adds. “They are looking for a better future for themselves and their families. ”

IOM’s objective is not to prevent migrants from leaving Haiti by boat or other means, but rather to promote safe, orderly migration and what is called “regular migration”, for those who want to leave.

Migrants intercepted at sea or repatriated from other countries are lucky. Many do not survive the trip; the IOM specifies that “the deaths of passengers on board are frequent”.

Migrants who travel by boat rather than by plane are often vulnerable people from rural areas. Often they have to sell their goods or borrow money from loan sharks with high repayment fees to pay the cost of the crossing, which averages between $ 350 and $ 700 depending on the type of boat and the destination, but can reach $ 7,000.

Once back in Haiti, IOM, with the support of its partners, offers migrants a series of services to facilitate their return to life at home. Migrants are provided with food and water on arrival, and medical, psychological and legal assistance is available.

They are also given a small amount of money to cover their safe return journey and can access information using a dedicated IOM hotline: many migrants do not fully understand the risks they face when they are attempting a sea crossing, IOM has therefore focused on educating those who are tempted to try.

Many migrants say they have no plans to leave Haiti forever, but will return once they can save some money or send it home as a fund to improve the living conditions of their families.

“To prevent migrants from risking their lives, it is essential to offer them employment opportunities in Haiti and to ensure that living conditions and access to basic services are improved,” explains Claire Gaulin.

United Nations agencies in Haiti are working alongside IOM to provide a range of services, including education, health and social protection, as well as the creation of decent jobs that will encourage people to stay at home. .

Back in Limonade, ‘Jacques’ is still recovering after his attempted migration in January. He is unable to sleep at night due to an injury he sustained when the boat capsized, preferring to spend the money he received from IOM to send his son to school rather than treating the injury, lamenting that if he was in better health “I would be able to seek opportunities and rebuild my life.”

Learn more at the United Nations

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