Faces of the Returnees

Haitian families expelled from Cuba and the U.S. have faces. Here they are!

Ndiaga Seck
Un enfant avec sa mère
UNICEF Haiti/2021/Rouzier
12 octobre 2021

On 9 October, 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. on 9 October, 34 per cent among them are women and children.

 

Sterline Blaise, 22 years old, mother of two

I left to find a better life.

Sterline Blaise, 22, mother of two
UNICEF Haiti/2021/Rouzier
Sterline Blaise, 22, mother of two

“My name is Sterline Blaise I am 22 years old. My first child is 4 years old, and the second is one year old. I heard there was a ‘kanntè’, a boat that was going to leave. So, I left to find a better life.

I spent four days on the boat. I had no idea it would be such a difficult, difficult situation. Otherwise, I would never have risked my life, and that of my two children in the middle of the sea where you couldn't even see the land. I couldn't see the trees.

I left empty-handed, it was the other passengers who gave me a little water and it was the sailors when they cooked, even if the food was not well cooked gave me a little and I shared it with the children. Because I had nothing, and I didn't know how the situation was.”

 

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. Most Haitian children and their parents who were expelled on 9 October from Cuba and the U.S. are from the southern peninsula of Haiti which was hit by a massive earthquake last August. Yceus Saint-Louis left Haiti in a “kanntè” and was brought back in the Cuban boat.

Yceus Saint-Louis, 45 years old, fisherman

I left Haiti to help those I had left behind

Yceus Saint-Louis, 45, fisherman
UNICEF Haiti/2021/Rouzier
Yceus Saint-Louis, 45, fisherman

“My name is Yceus Saint-Louis and I am 45 years old.

When the earthquake hit, I could no longer sleep in my house as it is partially destroyed. We took shelter in a kitchen, a small room used as a kitchen outside the main house. We couldn't even find enough money to fix the house or eat. We noticed that there is nothing to do to survive. We started a membership fee to collect money to buy fuel, an engine, and a boat. There were many of us and we got together to create the ‘kanntè’.

We helped put the boat in the water and set off together. But we couldn't get to our destination because of the weather. The sea was rough, and we stopped on the Cuban coasts. The whole night, the sea violently wrecked the boat and in the morning the rope of the boat broke. and the boat started drifting to the land. Several passengers threw themselves into the sea and started swimming to the beach, but we lost two people. We got off the boat and the Cubans found us and today, we got back here.

I left Haiti to help those I had left behind. Before leaving, I lived in Nan Sous, Commune of Cayemites. I come back with the same state of mind as before, in the same situation. I will continue to do what I was doing before I left. Fishing. I fished, I dived. I will continue to do it.”

 

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 who returned from the US by plane. Many among the people who were returned from Cuba 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.  Children among these migrants are often undocumented and at high risks of child trafficking and sexual exploitation and abuse. Maliya Saint Louis was with her father Yceus on a perilous journey. 

Maliya Saint-Louis, 12 years old, student

I was afraid the boat would sink, and the baby would die.

Maliya Saint-Louis, 12 years old, schoolgirl
UNICEF Haiti/2021/Rouzier
Maliya Saint-Louis, 12 years old, schoolgirl

“My name is Saint-Louis Maliya, I am 12 years old and I was in 5th year at the national school and admitted to 6th year. I really enjoyed playing with my friends. We played games like “taking sick children to the hospital”. But on the boat, I was not feeling well, I was throwing up. Sometimes people would cook the food but they would not give me. I was hungry. It was very windy, and a lot of water was falling on the boat. It’s like the boat is sinking, people are scared and screaming for help. They were asking God to save them until the boat got to the coast. And I always felt like when I was on the boat, I couldn't stand and felt like I was losing my footing. My biggest fear was that the boat would sink with all the people. There were a lot of people vomiting, both adults and children. There was a baby on board and I was afraid the boat would sink, and the baby would die.”

 

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 in 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.

Lerna Thelusca, 30 years old

We are back with the same feeling that we will continue to fight to survive.

Lerna Thelusca, 30 years old
UNICEF Haiti/2021/Rouzier
Lerna Thelusca, 30 years old

“My name is Lerna Thelusca. I took the ‘kanntè’ à La Gonâve to go to Miami. Due to the wind, lack of fuel, and lack of food, we disembarked in Cuba to ask for water and fuel. They didn’t give us what we wanted, kept us for a number of days, and this Saturday, we are back in Haiti.

It [the journey] was a hassle. The children were crying, we were out of fuel, out of  water, in the rain, the winds. In the end, we did not reach our destination. Where we arrived, they kept us and sent us back to Haiti at the point of departure. As we went in search of a better life.

We are back with the same feeling that we will continue to fight to survive.

We don't have a plan. We’ve come back today. We’ve got no plan.”

 

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 the lives of children and their parents and caregivers at risk.

Bruno Maes, UNICEF Representative speaks with the young Maliya.
UNICEF Haiti/2021/Rouzier
Bruno Maes, UNICEF Representative speaks with the young Maliya.

“The Haitian migrants expelled from Cuba and the U.S. 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 Bruno Maes, UNICEF Representative in Haiti. 

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.