Tag Archives: refugees

US grants temporary protected status to Haitians; but what kind of welcome would refugees receive? Mariel Memories

The New York Times reported this on Friday –

The Obama administration extended a special immigration status on Friday to Haitians living illegally in the United States that protects them from deportation for 18 months and allows them to work here.

Calling the aftermath of the earthquake “a disaster of historic proportions,” the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, said she was granting the designation, known as temporary protected status, for Haitian immigrants because their safety would be at risk if they were deported.

Administration officials said the special status would cover at least 100,000 Haitians believed to be living in the United States illegally, as well as about 30,000 Haitians who had been ordered deported. Haitians who receive the temporary status will be able to obtain documents allowing them to live here and work legally.

This was a humane decision. I have been wondering however, how much longer US sympathy for Haitians will last if large numbers of new refugees begin to arrive on these shores.

So far, Americans have responded generously, but from our limited conversations with residents in Miami (where Anna and I are currently waiting for our next move) we have detected a growing sense of concern at what may lie down the road. People have evoked memories of the 1980 Mariel Boatlift of Cubans, which led to camps being set up around the city.

Some very kind parents who offered us lunch today said they were hearing mutterings of a less than sympathetic nature. Another resident specifically noted that many houses around a nearby park still had security bars from the Mariel days, which brought with it an influx of former Cuban criminals. (An issue immortalised in the early scenes of Scarface).

Any refugee crisis is difficult, for both refugees and host communities, but destitute Haitians might have particularly little capacity to adapt. Let us hope the world manages to set up an aid operation of sufficient quality that such a migration need not take place.

Meanwhile, this is a new update of the US response:

United States Government Haiti Earthquake Disaster Response Update

On January 12, 2010, a massive earthquake struck the nation of Haiti, causing catastrophic damage inside and around the capital city of Port-au-Prince. President Obama has promised the people of Haiti that “you will not be forsaken; you will not be forgotten.” The United States Government has mobilized resources and manpower to aid in the relief effort. Below please find some key facts and examples of government actions to date.

All numbers below are accurate as of noon Sunday, January 17, 2010

AIRPORTS AND AIRSPACE

*     The airfield is open for 24/7 operations and has a 100-aircraft

per day capacity, this is an increase from yesterday’s 60 aircraft per day capacity.

*     The airport has received more than 600 short tons of supplies.

*     USAF air traffic control and airfield management personnel

continue to manage air operations at the airport with approval of the Government of Haiti.

*     There are 30 military helicopters providing relief to the people

of Haiti.

*     These helicopters are operating out of nine landing zones,

including five drop-off points.

SAFETY

*     Approximately 5,800 military personnel on the ground or afloat.

*     Approximately 7,500 additional military personnel are expected

to arrive by 1/18.

*     More than 1,000 personnel from the 82nd Airborne Division

arrived in Haiti on 1/16.

HEALTH

*     More than 250 HHS medical personnel have arrived in Haiti. 

*     2 planeloads of medicine, medical equipment and supplies from

HHS have arrived in Haiti with a third expected to arrive today.

*     3,840 hygiene kits taken from USAID stockpiles in Miami have

arrived.

*     The USNS Comfort is currently underway and expected to arrive on

1/20 with 600 medical personal on board.

EVACUATION AND RESCUES

*     As of 0900 a total of 1,760 American citizens have been

airlifted out of Haiti.

*     USAID/DART reported that a U.S. Urban Search and Rescue (USAR)

team had rescued an additional three individuals at the Caribbean Market.

*     As of 0900, US USAR teams have rescued 26 individuals. 

*     There are currently six US USAR teams operating in Haiti along

with 21 international USAR teams from around the world.  US teams are based out of Fairfax VA, Los Angeles CA, Miami FL (two teams), New York NY and Virginia Beach VA.

*     Each USAR team includes approximately 70 team members.

FOOD AND WATER

*     U.S. military aircraft have airlifted 130,000 humanitarian daily

rations and more than 70,000 bottles of water to Port-au-Prince.

*     Three water purification units are operational and can supply

180,000 liters per day.

*     USS Carl Vinson continues to provide potable water production.

*     U.S. military aircraft will continue to support the delivery of

an additional 600,000 daily rations over the next several days.

*     Six additional water purification units are scheduled to arrive

in the coming days from USAID stockpiles in Dubai. Each unit provides 1000,000 liters of safe drinking water serving 10,000 people per day. 

*     12,000 water containers have arrived from Miami.

*     Yesterday, the U.N. World Food Program distributed high-energy

biscuits to a total of 50,000 people.

*     The World Food Program Port-au-Prince metropolitan areas

schools feeding program is no serving hot meals to 50,000 affected people

How to Help Support Relief Efforts

*     Contribute online through ClintonBushHaitiFund.org.

*     Text “QUAKE” to 20222 to charge a  $10 donation to the Clinton

Bush Haiti Fund (the donation will be added to your cell phone bill).

*     Find more ways to help through the Center for International

Disaster Information.

Get Information about Friends or Family

The State Department Operations Center has set up the following phone number for Americans seeking information about family members in Haiti:

1-888-407-4747 (due to heavy volume, some callers may receive a recording). You can also send an email to the State Department.  Please be aware that communications within Haiti are very difficult at this time.

The threat of violence; being cut off from home

As hope dwindles for many Haitians, increasing numbers of reports are discussing the potential for violence.

Port-au-Prince has show resilience so far, but as aid remains blocked in warehouses and the situation grows more desperate, an ugly fight for survival seems a genuine possibility.

Local and international authorities had, in the first days, downplayed the security issue, stressing the capital remained calm. But the question is growing more urgent: how much longer can Haiti’s fragile society, which is no stranger to violence, hold together? The 1998 food crisis let to major riots.

How would even the strongest societies behave after days of limited or no access to food, water and shelter – where the only immediate hope of relief may lie in breaking into buildings to take it, stealing from your fellow survivors – let alone one with no effective state structures? The situation may, in turn, become increasingly difficult for international aid workers, leading to less assistance, and even more desperation: a vicious circle.

Even before the earthquake, feelings towards internationals, the UN, ranged from support to resentment. With so much aid unable to get through, it may now resurface. Pre-disaster, there had been a rise in violence over the holiday period (shooting by men on motorbikes); and political tension was growing as elections approached.

As the initial shock story subsides, many news agencies have begun to air these concerns. CNN reports of increasing worries that the peace may not last; and that medical staff have had to leave a makeshift hospital for fear of insecurity.

The BBC has shown images of young men roaming the streets with machetes. UPDATE: It is now leading on the issue of security fears.

The UK’s Telegraph newspaper reports “the sounds of gunfire echoed around Port au Prince as looters fought over scarce food supplies, hijacked vehilces and raided a UN warehouse where 15,000 tons of food had been stockpiled.”

Reuters reports: “gangs of robbers had begun preying on survivors living in makeshift camps on streets strewn with debris and decomposing bodies, as aftershocks rippled through the hilly neighborhoods. Authorities reported some looting and growing anger among survivors despairing over the delay in life-saving assistance. Meanwhile, the United States and other nations rushed to deliver food, water and medical supplies through a jammed airport, a smashed seaport and roads littered with rubble.”

The New York Times says that looting of houses and shops increased Friday, and anger boiled over in unpredictable ways: residents near the city’s overfilled main cemetery stoned a group of ambulance workers seeking to drop off more bodies.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reportedly said it had to stop aid distribution on Thursday at the prime minister’s compound because of security concerns.

The Canadian press reports here that the US is considering the possibility for a greater security role if the situation deteriorates.

On a personal level, this makes the prospect of any imminent return – with our young children anyway – even less likely. Especially as we read of Haitians doing their best to leave, in case things turn bad. It is an troubling prospect, as we had just moved our whole life to Haiti; all our possessions, our jobs, our children. Haiti was our home. Despite many kind offers of assistance – including one today in Miami, from someone we never met before – I feel adrift, in nowhere land, on the sidelines. I want to go home, but I am not sure when, or how.

Does this make us refugees? Well, not in any official sense, I would suspect. We have family, friends, community roots in Europe and the US; we were in Haiti as internationals. But in another sense perhaps we are, albeit temporarily and from a position of privilege. We are displaced, without any of the familiar, comforting possessions that we use to mark our territory; no place we can call our own. It is a small concern amid a much larger tragedy, nothing in comparison with what millions of Haitians are facing, but it still feels deeply unsettling.

As to the potential for violence, the press does sometimes dramatise such situations, as it seeks an evolution in the narrative, but it would seem unwise to dismiss these warnings as fear-mongering. Common sense suggests darker times yet may be in store for Haiti’s people before the crisis plateaus.

The coming days will test the international community’s response to the utmost. One can only hope our leaders are up to the challenge; and that Haitians will find the strength to prove such fears unfounded.