Waves of Haitians face the risks of high seas travel “in search of a better life”

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“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 *, a 32-year-old father from the commune of Limonade on the north coast of Haiti, mirrors that of a growing number of people who are trying to leave the Caribbean country irregularly and without proper documents. .

Many, travel on overloaded and shabby boats in the hope of reaching neighboring countries, such as the Turks and Caicos Islands or the Bahamas, from which some attempt to continue to the United States.

Migration on the rise

Although it is difficult to determine the actual number of people leaving Haiti, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) says the Haitian coast guard intercepted at least 224 migrants at sea in 2020 and 605 in 2021.

Also in October 2021, some 1,194 migrants, mainly men who were trying to reach Miami in the state of Florida in the United States, were repatriated to Haiti.

Their boat had run out of fuel and had engine problems. They landed in southern Cuba, where they were arrested by the authorities.

“A growing number of migrants from Haiti are making the perilous journey by sea in the hope of reaching another country,” says Claire Gaulin, IOM project manager for migrant assistance, on the occasion. of International Migrants Day, celebrated each year on December 18.

IMO

‘Jacques’ is interviewed by IOM staff after his failed boat trip.

“They are motivated by a number of factors, including insecurity, lack of jobs and other opportunities at home,” says Ms. Gaulin.

“In some cases, people left because their property or livelihood was destroyed by the earthquake that hit the southwest of the country in August,” she adds. “They all have one thing in common: they are looking for a better future for themselves and for their families.”

Frequent loss of life during crossings

The goal of the United Nations Migration Agency is not to prevent migrants from leaving Haiti by boat or other means, but to promote safe, orderly and 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 loss of life among the passengers on board is frequent”.

Migrants who travel by boat rather than by plane are often vulnerable people from rural areas. Many have to sell their belongings or borrow money from loan sharks with high repayment rates to pay the cost of the crossing, which can range from $ 350 to $ 700 depending on the type of boat and destination, and as high as five to seven. thousand dollars.

Support the return of migrants

Once back in Haiti, IOM and its partners offer migrants a series of services to facilitate their return to life at home.

Upon arrival, migrants are provided with food and water. They are provided with medical, psychological and legal assistance. They also receive a small amount of money to cover their safe return trip and can access information as needed, using a dedicated UN agency phone line.

Many migrants do not fully understand the risks they face when attempting a sea crossing. This is why IOM focuses on raising awareness among those who are tempted to migrate.

IOM has created murals in Balan and other key boat departure points, with quotes from migrants warning of the dangers.

Many migrants say they have no plans to leave Haiti forever and plan to return once they save or send money to improve the lives 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.

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Murals were painted carried out at the main in some starting points, warning of the dangers of migration by sea.

UN 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 their home.

Back in Limonade, Jacques is struggling to recover from his January migration attempt. He is unable to sleep at night due to an injury he sustained when his boat capsized.

He would rather spend the money he received from IOM to send his son to school rather than treating the injury. He laments, however, that if he were in better health “I would be able to seek opportunities and rebuild my life.” “

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