Nearly 170 children expelled back to Haiti from US and Cuba in one day

Nearly 170 Haitian children arrived in Port-au-Prince yesterday with their parents after being expelled from Cuba mainly and the U.S., according to UNICEF. Most of the children are from southwestern Haiti and left two to three weeks after the August earthquake in an attempt to reach the U.S.

“Most Haitian children and their parents who were expelled yesterday are from the southern peninsula of Haiti which was hit by a massive earthquake last August. They left the country early September as they had lost everything. These children are likely to leave again for the US unless conditions are created for them to live decent lives in their communities,” said Bruno Maes, UNICEF Representative in Haiti.

In just one day, seven flights from Cuba and one from the United States carried Haitian families, including 73 girls and 96 boys, back to Haiti. According to UNICEF estimates, 80 per cent of these children are under five years of age. Many had left Haiti on makeshift boats, and at least two people were reported dead when their boat capsized off the Cuban coasts. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 1069 people were expelled from Cuba and the U.S. yesterday, 34 per cent among them are women and children.

In addition to these newly arrived flights, a Cuban boat also disembarked some 348 migrants including 12 girls and 26 boys near La Saline, in the outskirts of the Haitian capital. Many among them said they had departed from the southern commune of Pestel hardest hit by the earthquake. UNICEF also identified at least four unaccompanied children among the children expelled from Cuba.

“Haitian men, women and children who lost almost everything in the earthquake took a perilous journey in makeshift boats called “kanntè” with little or no security to find a better life for themselves and those they have left behind. Children among these migrants are often undocumented and at high risks of child trafficking and sexual exploitation and abuse,” Maes said.

According to OIM, 7,621 men, women and children were expelled from the United States on charter flights between 19 September 19 and 9 October, more than half are women and children. Children represent 18.7 percent of migrants returned from the US by plane.

Upon arrival, UNICEF welcomes children with recreational activities in the “children’s corner” installed at the airport and gives them meals and water while psychologists provide them with initial support. UNICEF also works with the government agency in charge of child protection, IBESR, and IOM, to identify and document children at the airport before conducting further monitoring and follow-up within host communities.

UNICEF continues to support communities affected by the earthquake by building or repairing basic social infrastructures, which can act as a deterrent and even a long-lasting solution to perilous migrations that put lives of children and their parents and caregivers at risks.

“When I was at the airport, I saw children who were malnourished or had skin diseases. They will most probably go back to the south where most basic services for children such as education and health services are still largely disrupted almost two months after the earthquake. More solidarity is needed to support the migrant families who lost all their belongings and need to rebuild their lives in Haiti,” said Maes.

UNICEF is calling for accelerated support to the expelled Haitian populations to rebuild their lives, and help children regain access to health services and go back to school.

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