Family reunification at the border, Anderson’s story

Anderson, 13 years old, disappeared from his home for 22 days. Hours of investigation, cross-checking of information and the intervention of many local child protection actors were necessary to reunite the child back to his mother. 

Anderson plays soccer in the courtyard of the foster home in Ouanaminthe. © IOM/JulieHarlet2018Ouanaminthe- a border town in the northeastern department of Haiti, a group of children are playing football in the courtyard of the foster home “Sainte-Thérèse de l’Enfant Jésus “ run by the Sisters of Saint John the Evangelist, Anderson, one of the children, has been missing from his home for 22 days.

Right now, he has no idea that he will be in his mother’s arms in a few hours and he continues to play soccer and leads his teammates towards the goal. "I'm the team captain. I love soccer. Barcelona is my favorite team, "said the 13-year-old, smiling and putting his cap back on his head.

Anderson, arrived at The Sisters’ shelter 10 days ago. An officer from the Institute of Social Welfare and Research - IBESR intercepted him on the border bridge that connects the Haitian city of Ouanaminthe to Dajabon in the Dominican Republic. The child was unaccompanied and had no identification documents. "He says he lives in the city of Cap Haitien with his aunt that she gave him 4,000 Haitian gourdes [1] to pay a smuggler to cross the border. He says he wants to go to to Montecristi [2] to find his mother and go return to school. Apparently, he has already spent six months there with his mother, "begins Michelot Difficile, protection officer at IOM Haiti in Ouanaminthe.

The clues to assist reuniting the child to his family are limited. Anderson does not provide a phone number, his aunt’s exact address in Cap Haitien , or his mother’s address in Montecristi. His story is disjointed, and the details differ as he recounts his journey.

Anderson is surrounded by Michelot Difficile, IOM protection officer, Bertil Jocelyn protection officer at IBESR int the streets of Cap Haitien© IOM/JulieHarlet2018Anderson is now sitting in the IOM vehicle with Michelot Difficile, IOM protection officer, Bertil Jocelyn protection officer at IBESR and Emmanuelle Madje, psychologist at IBESR.
On our way to the city of Cap Haitien, little by little and with patience and caring, the IOM and IBESR protection officers unravel the inconsistencies of the story, and realize that the child is confused and lost in his lies.

"Unfortunately, many migrants, and especially minors are unaware of the risks they incur when traveling illegally"

 

It is in the boy’s former school that the first tangible clue will be found. A teacher from the St. Pierre Formation Institution in Cap-Haïtien recognizes Anderson and tells us where his mom used to run her small business. A few blocks from the school, Rosita Augustin, a peanuts seller, recognizes the child. "Anderson! Here you are! I know him well. I'm a friend of his mom, I'll take you to her place, "she says.

Looking for Anderson’s family house in ”La Boule”, in the city of Cap Haïtien ©IOM/JulieHarlet2018After a twenty minute-drive through the city of Cap Haitien we arrive in a place called "La Boule". There Mireille, Anderson’s mother is waiting for him.  
Relieved, she explains that her son had been missing for 22 days, he ran away from home after a fight. Mireille is a saleswoman in Cap Haitien She has indeed lived and worked in the Dominican Republic in Santiago but returned to  Haiti six months ago. "I worked in Santiago for a year and a half but Anderson never came to the DR. He never accompanied me. His aunt watched over him and his brothers and sisters during my stay. I have three children and I raise them alone. I left the country to earn enough money to feed the family and pay the children ‘school fees. My sister took care of the children while I was away. "

 Emmanuelle, the psychologist, talks to the family and tries to reestablish the fragile bond that unites the mother and the child. "Adolescence can be an unstable period when children and parents have to readjust. The absence of a father figure in this case does not help. You can certainly find someone around you to help or support you, "says Emmanuelle to Anderson's mother. A follow-up of reunification will be carried out by the IBESR and / or the Sisters of Saint John to evaluate the situation and to prevent another runaway situation

Before leaving, the protection officers provide a risk awareness session on irregular migration. All the members of the family and neighbors who, out of curiosity, came to attend the reunification, listen.

 Emmanuelle Madje, psychologist listens to Anderson.© IOM/JulieHarlet2018’’Unfortunately, Many migrants and especially minors are unaware of the risks they incur when traveling illegally. Too often at the border-crossing point of Ouanaminthe, we encounter cases of children who have been abused, sometimes injured or who have been exploited in the Dominican Republic, especially for sexual purposes. Minors are easy prey for traffickers and IOM, together with IBESR, carries out daily prevention and awareness activities to prevent them from crossing without documentation and unaccompanied by a parent. When unaccompanied children are identified, they are referred to the Saint John Sisters Center and IOM supports the IBESR to reunite them with their family or to place them in orphanages when they are without parents, "says Olivier Tenes, IOM’s Representative in Ouanaminthe.

Since the onset of the project in April 2016 "Assistance to vulnerable children and women in border areas in Haiti" funded by the Government of Canada, 74 children have been reunited with their families or placed in an orphanage.

Anderson reunited with his mother© IOM/JulieHarlet2018The story that Anderson has told, of an undocumented migrant who crosses the border with the help of a smuggler is a reality for many migrants’ men, women, and children. Some want to find a family member, others hope for a better life on the other side of the border, while others work there and send a substantial portion of their income to their family members in Haiti.

 According to the first national survey of immigrants in the Dominican Republic, 458,233 Haitians live in the Dominican Republic. They represent 87.3% of all migrants living in the DR. In addition, it is estimated that 100,000 Haitians cross the border each week without any documentation.

Julie Harlet IOM Haiti

 

 

[1]  4000 Htg = 60 USD

[2] San Fernando de Montecristi is a small coastal town north of the Dominican Republic located at 40 minutes from Ouanaminthe.