Migrant Assistance

Assisted to Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR)

Haiti is a major country of origin of migrants, both regular and irregular. This resulted in a significant diaspora and migrant population living in the Dominican Republic (and more broadly the Caribbean region), the United States of America, Canada, and more recently South and Central America. The vast majority of these migrants originally left Haiti to seek economic opportunities in developed countries. 

Irregular migrants usually engage in unsafe travels at sea that often results in their ship capsizing on their way to their destination, usually the United States. To address this issue and safe lives of Haitians seeking a better life abroad, IOM provides, through its Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) program, direct assistance to returning migrants, as well as a communications campaign to deter irregular migration targeting high-risk communities. Since 2009 IOM has been working with local Government of Haiti (GoH) authorities to provide for the most basic and urgent needs of these returning migrants. With support from the US Department of State (USDOS) Bureau for Populations, Refugees and Migration (PRM), IOM has been addressing the root causes of high migration flows from major at-risk migrant source communities in the Port-de-Paix area.

The project additionally reinforces the Government of Haiti (GoH) capacity to address irregular migration in targeted communities in the North Coast of the country, and facilitates the return of irregular migrants rescued at sea. It further provides capacity building support for key GoH migration officials, specifically the Office National pour la Migration (ONM), to support their ability to directly manage returns and reintegration of irregular migrants.  This includes on-the-job training of key GoH migration officials to provide immediate support to returning migrants, as well as develop formal procedures to provide documentation and returns support for returnees. This support facilitates a transition strategy to hand over responsibility for direct management of these returning migrants by the end of the project, assuming that the Government of Haiti allocates sufficient resources to the local ONM office to continue services.  


The situation regarding trafficking in persons in Haiti is dire, in terms of protection, prosecution, and prevention. Haiti is a country of origin for thousands of individuals who are victims of sexual exploitation, labor exploitation, illegal adoption and domestic servitude. Victims are exploited in the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, and Brazil. Haiti is also a transit country for a wide variety of victims who are en route to the United States. Child trafficking is of particular concern, especially the restavek problem. 

The restavek phenomenon, is endemic in Haiti, and refers to internal child trafficking for the purpose of exploitation in domestic servitude. Estimates based on field work indicate that between 250,000 and 500,000 children in Haiti are currently being exploited as domestic servants. Domestic servants are common in Haiti, including in working class homes. Even in internally displaced person camps one can find restaveks. These exploited children tend to escape from their captors in their early adolescence, often after almost a decade of exploitative living conditions. These children often do not know their biological families, or resent them, and have no choice but roam the streets. There, they are easy prey for criminals and may become victims of violence, or recruited as members of gangs. Family tracing, long-term reintegration assistance, and monitoring are essential services IOM Haiti provides. 

The situation regarding unaccompanied minors (UAMs) crossing the Dominican Border continues to be a major challenge. Dominican and Haitian authorities together with IOM Haiti and Dominican Republic are working to create a locally owned system of referral, however at present a serious lack in the capacity of the personnel available in terms of their ability to meet the psycho-social needs of the victims is to be noted. IOM Haiti and IOM Dominican Republic are working with governmental, NGO and international organization partners to develop a rights-based sustainable methodology for dealing with this issue. 

On the other side of this coin recent IOM research has shown that up to 200 Dominican women are trafficked to Haiti every year. They are mainly exploited in the brothels in affluent areas and at major sea-ports. Services these victims require are currently not widely available, and their return hope is often marred by stigmatization. IOM is working with its governmental and NGO partners to reinforce these services. This particular trafficking in persons dynamic has also been tied to the criminal gangs responsible for much of the transnational narcotics trafficking between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. This research has shed light on this poorly understood dynamic and will be published in the coming months.

To respond to this dynamic of exploitation, IOM Haiti implements direct assistance and governmental capacity building activities. IOM works with NGO and governmental partners to facilitate the delivery of medical and psychosocial services, income generating activity trainings, micro-grants, and long-term return monitoring to minimize the incidence of re-trafficking. The projects are targeted at primarily assisting child victims. Indeed, the Haitian context of trafficking in persons is such that children exploited as domestic servants make up the largest single group of victims in Haiti. Since January 2005, IOM Haiti has assisted 1562 victims of trafficking (656 male, 906 female), of which the vast majority were children (1531) who have already been returned to their biological families. By reducing the economic push factors and the corollary perceived pull factors, i.e. free education and a “better life”, IOM Haiti aims to facilitate a stable home environment where the child can develop fully. 

IOM Haiti’s counter-trafficking programme emphasizes the importance of an integrated multi-disciplinary approach based on victims’ rights and local ownership. To this end, each of the current ongoing projects include: i) capacity building, ii) direct assistance facilitation, and iii) awareness raising/sensitization activities.

Capacity Building in Migration Management

Despite a clear improvement in the security situation since 2004, the violent events of 2008 and the recent earthquake of 12th January 2010 have shown that Haiti is indeed still exposed to shocks of multiple nature. All such factors represent a considerable challenge for the country. This, in terms of migration management, translates in porous borders and     ineffective border control. Such weaknesses are easily exploited by organized criminal networks which can undermine the capacity to fight the trafficking of drug, arms and people. Illegal migration transiting in, or originating from Haiti towards more developed countries of the North leads to increased social tensions with Haiti’s neighboring countries in the Caribbean, specifically the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Dominican Republic, as well as further afield. Moreover, the current Haitian context, already marked by insecurity under various aspects (food, employment and personal safety) and further exacerbated by the recent earthquake, risks to lead to even higher level of irregular movement. It is therefore imperative for Haiti to have the support of the international Community to strengthen its capacities in migration governance.

The Capacity Building in Migration Programme, CBMM, fosters an integrated approach to migration and border management. More specifically, it proposes to achieve its aims through an inter-agency approach. It tackles the need for an improved capacity to fight the crimes of trafficking and smuggling in person and to effectively manage borders for an improved migration management and security in the country and in the region. Since 2007, IOM Haiti has run projects to improve the capacity of Haitian borders and support the Haitian Government in the management of migration. These programmes concentrated on the provision of equipment for borders posts and on strengthening the human and technical capacity of the Ministry of the Interior and of its Office for Migration and Emigration through the provision of specialized integrated border management training (including counter-trafficking and counter-smuggling techniques), the provision of immigration specific equipment and the fostering of an inter-regional dialogue on migration issues. These programmes resulted in a thorough review of migration management systems in Haiti and identified further priority areas for capacity development and inter-agency enhancement. These programmes have fostered a positive dialogue on issues of migration and more specifically border management between Haiti and its neighbors the Dominican Republic and aim at continuing to provide the necessary support to both countries on the island of Hispaniola to facilitate movement and the respect of migrants’ rights.