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HAITI
Chile attracts Haitian migrants
Milo Milfort
5/24/2017
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More and more young people want to leave the country as a result of the persistent socioeconomic crisis.

“I left Haiti all because of unemployment. I studied veterinarian sciences, but I was not able to find work. They made me renounce my Christian faith in order to go sell lottery tickets to support myself and my family. Despite all this, I could not bring in enough,” reminds to Latinamerica Press 42 year old Faniel Pierre, from Fort Liberté in northeastern Haiti, one of the poorest regions in the country. Pierre now lives in Chile, the new El Dorado of Haitian migration.

The same as Pierre, more and more young people want to leave Haiti, whatever it takes, as a result of the socioeconomic situation that cannot seem to stop getting worse in this Caribbean country.

“Haiti discourages us. I no longer want to remain in a country where there are no hospitals or jobs. There is nothing here!,” says 25 year old Sandro Germain to Latinamerica Press. His intention is to leave the country as soon as possible.

Poverty and misery have deepened in Haiti. Unemployment, the frequent devaluation of the gourde (the local currency) in relation to the US dollar, runaway inflation, the cost of living increase, the decline in purchasing power in homes, the cholera epidemic, and food insecurity have set hold in this country ravaged by two catastrophes in the last seven years: the tragic earthquake in 2010 that left 230,000 deaths and 1.3 million affected, and the devastation in the wake of hurricane Matthew in October 2016 that killed 547 persons and affected 2.4 million of the population.

The pursuit of wellbeing in other countries in the region, mainly in South America, has become a very clear trend, enough to be considered worrisome in the eyes of human rights organizations.

“If the Haitian migration to the Dominican Republic got started with peasants and farmers, the migration to Chile is by young professionals and students, skilled persons that regrettably leave the country out of no choice,” said to Latinamerica Press Geralda Sainville, head of Communication and Defense of the Returnee and Refugee Support Group (GARR), a platform of Haitian organizations that work on migration.

“The population does not have the means to survive due to the socioeconomic conditions in the country. Added to the problem of unemployment are the natural catastrophes that further impoverish the people. The only way to get ahead is to leave the country,” explains Sainville, who also mentions as a cause, the disappointment with the governance of the country and the non-fulfillment of promises made by elected authorities.

“The feeling is that there is a sort of collective disappointment,” she says.

Considering what Sainville says, those responsible should sooner than later focus on these issues.

“The situation is worrisome,” she assures us. “This is a migration that the State must control so that it does not generate other phenomena such as human trafficking.”

Brazil no longer attractive
Since 2016, Chile has slowly but surely become the second destination of choice for Haitian migration, only after the Dominican Republic. In South America, Chile has already dethroned Brazil, residence to a large Haitian community that in the past few years has seen many of its members try to enter illegally into the United States through a long and perilous clandestine journey.

While some were able to enter US territory, others did not. According to Haitian migrants statements picked up by the press, when they do not die because of attacks by wild animals or hunger, they are raped in the Amazon jungle or are left stranded in Mexico. In January of this year, more than 7,000 Haitian migrants were left stuck in the US-Mexico border.

This long and cumbersome journey is made by pregnant women, children and young people who want to flee the economic crisis that is now hitting Brazil. They cross Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico on foot for weeks through forests and rivers with the help of migrant smugglers that operate throughout the continent.

Haitians are not the only ones in this long journey. Usually there are also Dominican, African, and Cuban migrants, plus others traveling with them. Many recordings in which Haitians narrate their deadly route circulated in the social media in 2016.

Following the dangerous route characterized by robberies, hunger, rape, and jailing, some of those who do make it across the border to the United States are captured and deported back to Haiti by the US immigration authority. For a long time now, those who fear being deported have remained in the Mexican border town of Tijuana.

Chile is what everyone is talking about. Anywhere in Haiti, young people bring it up as their next destination. This social phenomenon is constantly mentioned in social networks more often used by Haitians, such as Facebook, as well as in the traditional media.

The trip to Chile costs around US$3,000. Between $1,000 and $1,500 is required for travel expenses in order to pay the rent for a room, transportation, food and phone calls once they arrive. The airfare to Chile via the Dominican Republic is around $1,200.

The Dominican visa costs between $180 and $200; a roundtrip bus fare between Haiti and the Dominican Republic stands at $35 to $40. Finally, the $20 that has to be paid at the Haitian-Dominican border completely inflates the budget. Added to this could be additional transport costs and small expenses once in the Dominican Republic.

The last sacrifice
Chilean ambassador in Haiti, Patricio Utreras, pointed out to the Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste that Haitian citizens do not need a visa to enter Chile, just have an identity document, the plane ticket and enough pocket money for the duration of the stay.

“Haitians are very much appreciated in Chile,” he declared to Le Nouvelliste.

It requires great effort to get that money. Some people get into enormous debt; others sell off everything they own to achieve what they call the last sacrifice, while others call upon close relatives living in the United States to finance their travel.

However, the trip could cost even more taking into account the participation of intermediaries known as “facilitators” who plan the trip from Chile. The facilitators demand more money than necessary, and abuse from the fact that the Haitian migrant is ignorant of the reality, thus taking a risk of being cheated.

Haitian economists explain that the large Haitian community living in Chile and the economic growth of the country are the main reasons why this country is chosen as a destination.

“Now, my situation is better. I work as an industrial painter in an advertising company. With a salary of 500,000 Chilean pesos ($750) with no overtime, I am able to pay the rent, the light bill, the water bill, transportation and food; but I also have enough to support my two children who live in Fort Liberté. I pay the school fees on time and provide them with food,” adds Pierre, who did not stop emphasizing the great number of job opportunities that Chile has to offer.

Haitian migration to Chile is a constant subject of discussion at the highest level. On Mar. 27, President Jovenel Moïse and his Chilean counterpart Michelle Bachelet, in an official visit to Haiti, touched on the issue, as was confirmed by the Haitian president.

The visit was part of the consolidation of cooperation and friendship ties between Haiti and Chile. Both countries signed a bilateral “Agreement on the Equalization or Equivalence and Recognition of Studies in Basic or Primary, and Middle or Secondary Education.”

“We have definitely talked on the issue,” declared Moïse to the press, in reference to the migration issue. “This is why we have signed the agreement, in order to see what we are going to do in terms of cooperation. They are about 60,000 [Haitians in Chile]. We have to do everything possible to give them the documents.” —Latinamerica Press.


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A worsening economic situation leads professionals and students to leave the country. / Milo Milfort
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