Here's Why 8 Years After The Earthquake Haitians Continue To Seek Refuge
"Regardless of what obstacles are projected at Haitians, the people are resilient ..."
January 12, 2018 at 10:17 pm
On January 12, 2010, exactly eight years ago from today, many perished in a moment of violent, bellowing turbulence and falling concrete rubble over vulnerable bodies. A 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti and its people near the capital of Port-au-Prince. That day, 200,000 lives were lost and the incident still haunts Haitians as the worst catastrophic natural event in our island’s history.
Over 1.5 million were displaced in temporary housing, such as tents. Globally, many people were sympathetic by the tragic and immediate loss of life on the island. They were also aware and active in providing for the immediate need for, among many things, water, power, shelter and emotional support. Billions were donated to charitable foundations. With immediate global support through donated charitable gifts, thousands of first responders arrived on the threshold of the island with multiple independent plans of action. After all these plans were accomplished, and active support subsided, the threat of cholera from UN Peacekeepers have caused people more harm. Many Haitians left the island with nothing but the dream of finding work to provide for their hungry family members in need of stability.
One state government openly extended a sympathetic invitation to Haitians surviving the disaster, after many parts of the island were unlivable: their livelihoods were obliterated, their homes destroyed and family members perished. Two other states only discussed the emigration after it had already began. Now, in 2018, eight years after the disaster, how have these Haitians acclimated to their new lives in those foreign countries? How has the experience of Haiti’s people living in other countries affected their sense of belonging? And after eight years, is Haiti ready for a large influx of its people pushed back home?
Three countries presented themselves as sanctuaries for Haitian people, with different approaches. On one end, in Senegal, the country accepted a group of 163 students who were given the opportunity to continue their education. Senegal created a structure for them to be able to thrive in the common French-speaking country. During Brazil’s booming economy in the early 2010s, the country’s increased economic standing gave a chance for artisans and industrious Haitians to cross the Caribbean Sea to seek work to better their livelihoods, and the lives of their families. Many Haitians who experienced the earthquake trauma of 2010 sought haven in the United States for the American dream, and new opportunity under Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
In the West African country of Senegal, there was immediate hospitality and good grace given to the Haitian people by the state. As many Haitians suffered the aftermath of utter destruction of the natural disaster, President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal shared with the international community that the country’s citizens were descendants of Africans. He proclaimed that “Africa should offer Haitians the chance to return home. It is their right … to repatriation on the African continent.” The president promised a flight to West Africa, housing and shelter if few Haitians come and if more do, fertile land will be provided to them. Since 2010, Senegal has offered Haitians full scholarships to complete their studies while Haiti continued to rebuild. Overall, 163 Haitians were given room and board and a completely funded education in Senegal’s top university. Though the country lacks economic stability in Senegal, its hospitality knows little bounds. As a majority Muslim country, many Haitians have thrived in the learning environment. Though most Haitians are Catholic, and Senegalese are mostly Muslim, the common French language has brought them together. Today, many of the students have ingrained into Senegalese life and aspire to produce something worthwhile for the American people. Though their arrival was a celebration of African pride, not much has been documented about their accomplishments.
In 2010, 4,000 Haitians began to move to Brazil. Known for its economic climb as a burgeoning power, and as the World Cup and Olympics approached, many Haitians braved the treacherous migration through the Amazon to reach places such as São Paulo, in order to find work given to undocumented people. Many gained factory work and told their families back home in Haiti to join in on the plentiful work. Now there are enclaves of Haitians, mostly in São Paulo. As the market approached a steep decline, Haitians, being the lowest in the hierarchy of workers, were the first to be let go. Now, many find themselves without any work and have either returned to Haiti, or are in search of work in other South American countries. Currently, 400 temporary visas per month are being produced for Haitians to travel to Brazil, but there is no clear benefit of transmittance, money sent to family back home. Brazil government has recently began creating policy for the large influx of Haitians with the Association of Haitian Workers.
On November 20, 2017, the sitting president of the United States made a clear and sudden official statement proclaiming the end of TPS for Haitians immigrants. This includes ten nationalities in which their protection status will end, most notably, the large populations of people from El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. The termination of TPS for Haitians has since been extended to its final day, July 22, 2019. This means over 45,000 Haitians under protection after the 2010 earthquake (and beforehand for other reasons) must vacate the states by the summer of 2019. Understandably, immediately following the statement, many people were at risk of psychological and physical upending of all they’ve known for a considerable amount of time. They now have 18 months to plan their exit back to the island they haven’t known as home for almost a decade. They have no certainty of safety, food or resources. Haitians in the states are on the streets protesting for an extension of TPS. They're fighting to stay in the country they’ve grown to love, raise their children and call home.
Most recently, the Washington Post reported that the president has expressed comments singling out blacks and latinos. He has recently received backlash for comments in the Oval Office about a number of African countries, El Salvador and Haiti. Growing frustrated while lawmakers discussed immigrants from the previously mentioned countries, the president stated, “Why are we having these people from sh*thole countries come here?” He then continued by noting that the US should instead be more open to people from countries like Norway, and Asian countries who help the US economically. These statements display a clear leaning towards ethnocentric policy from the Trump administration. There is no doubt that Trump has a distaste towards blacks and latinos. It also leads one to believe that the Haitians fighting for a chance to stay in this country, due to their homeland’s instability, may be ignored completely. These comments have received sour responses from lawmakers, and infuriating responses from immigrants across the country. Understandably, Trump's inherent bias will severely impact people under TPS.
Haiti has endured two large hurricanes since the earthquake. Hurricane Matthew and Irma caused substantial mudslides, runoffs and construction damages. Now, many are still living in tents. Haitians, on average, make two dollars and ten cents a day, and the infrastructure, despite the help of billions in relief funding, is not at all stable. Though a new Haitian president has begun to create initiatives on developing agriculture in Haiti, Haitians set to be sent home after TPS’s expiration mostly had just enough money to send to their families back home as transmittances. Yet, there is no definitive assurance that Haitians, being ousted of the states under TPS, would have anything but struggle and suffering to gain.
Haitians in Senegal have experienced hospitality and the gift of education. Haitians in Brazil arrived to a land of promise, but as the country’s economy took a decline, many realized that the returns were low. In the US, Haitians face expulsion by the current administration. Regardless of what obstacles are projected at Haitians, the people are resilient, continuing to move forward and fight for status.