The Haiti Advisory Group of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) released a report this week describing challenges the island nation continues to face, following a cataclysmic earthquake last January. The report also made recommendations to the U.S. government on how to focus its aid to Haiti and protect refugees and children.
Highlighting difficulties in material and social reconstruction, and particular dangers to children, the report's researchers and authors urged international agencies and foreign governments not to forget Haiti's continuing humanitarian crisis. Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami described how “nearly nine months after the earthquake, 1.3 million persons remain homeless, living in tent camps,” while “clean-up and reconstruction efforts proceed at a very slow pace.”
“Despite the outpouring of support from the international community in the aftermath of the disaster, attention, to the long-term recovery of Haiti has begun to lag,” Archbishop Wenski noted. “Full assistance to help the country rebuild has yet to be delivered, and displaced Haitians, particularly vulnerable children, remain in dangerous situations.”
Especially troubling to the bishops' delegation was the plight of many Haitian children, especially those who lost parents in the disaster, and others left at orphanages by parents unable to care for them. The delegation cited the vulnerability of Haitian children to systems of servitude, and mentioned reports of Haitian children being forcibly trafficked into the Dominican Republic as laborers.
While acknowledging “some innovative and promising child protective initiatives,” the USCCB's Migration and Refugee Services education coordinator Todd Scribner said that “there is no comprehensive approach to prevent family separation, smuggling and trafficking across the border, and support safe return and reintegration ... for children.”
The conference's Haiti Advisory Group also reported a slow pace of infrastructural recovery and reconstruction, a growing reluctance of foreign governments to welcome Haitian refugees, and a lack of Haitian government policies aimed at reuniting families that remain separated.
Delegates of the USCCB recommended that the U.S. and other nations work to deliver and keep track of reconstruction funds and assistance, permit more Haitian refugees to seek asylum during the humanitarian crisis, help the Haitian government to provide for those who remain homeless, and cooperate internationally to prevent the trafficking and exploitation of Haitian children.
“The United States and the international community must re-focus their attention on Haiti,” Archbishop Wenski stated. “This includes ensuring that needed recovery and reconstruction funds are delivered and used properly; that civil society is included in planning efforts, and, importantly, that Haitian families are reunited and vulnerable Haitians, such as children, receive protection.”