For Haitians deported from the US, an unlikely welcome-home committee
Haitian volunteers, including former criminal deportees, help new arrivals in a land many find hard to negotiate.
For a moment, it feels like a family reunion. Two buses drive from the airport to a nearby parking lot, where several young men are waiting. They throw their arms up and yell, "Welcome!" as heads poke out of the bus windows.
But this is no picnic – it's the police station that processes criminal deportees from the US.
After a lull – when the US suspended deportations to Haiti – deportees are now again flowing in at a rate of about 100 a month. But the US-funded program to integrate new arrivals remains on hold indefinitely, and without explanation. So those now helping deportees are an unlikely group of volunteers – including former deportees themselves.
The six volunteers gathered at the police station are all members of a group called CARDH, the French acronym for Support Center for the Rehabilitation of Haitian Deportees, an association of former criminal deportees that provides temporary housing and logistical, employment, and moral support for newcomers.
"We have to show them how to get around, because living in Haiti is hard," says Cerat Prud'Homme, CARDH's founder.
CARDH is one of several deportee associations in Haiti that are planning to merge as they work with the United Nations, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and Haiti's Interior Ministry to develop a reintegration plan.
Already, there's been progress. Many of the roughly 5,000 criminal deportees who entered Haiti over the past two decades were immediately thrown in jail. Bribes of thousands of dollars were commonly the cost of freedom.
Today, many deportees are released within days, if not hours, of arrival.
Deportees have few ties to 'home'