Mission to Haiti and the Dominican Republic
I’m drafting this note as I return from a short trip to the Dominican Republic and Haiti, focused primarily on Haiti humanitarian issues.
As you probably know, the Obama Administration has already committed over $1 billion in humanitarian assistance to Haiti, and we have pledged a further $1.15 billion over 2 years in support of reconstruction and recovery efforts. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the State Department, the Department of Defense and other agencies throughout our government have been – and will continue to be – actively involved in efforts to assist in relief and reconstruction in the weeks, months and years ahead.
Although colleagues at USAID have played the major role in providing humanitarian assistance in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, we at PRM were asked to provide our expertise and support, and have worked with USAID and other agencies in several ways— in initial post-earthquake efforts to develop concepts and plans for U.S. support of the reconstruction effort; through extensive involvement in emergency State and USAID task forces; by providing on-the-ground advice and assistance on protection issues; in Washington-based coordination; and through targeted assistance to border areas of both the Dominican Republic and Haiti, to which many tens of thousands of Haitians have migrated.
My visit to the Dominican Republic was an important opportunity for me to express the support of the United States for the significant efforts of the government and the people of the Dominican Republic to provide post-earthquake aid to Haiti. In my meeting with President Fernandez, in my comments to the press and in information we provided publicly, we also emphasized that some of our new support to the border would go to Dominican public health and other institutions, as well as host families supporting vulnerable Haitians. Finally, and importantly, my visit with President Fernandez and my meetings with other senior Dominican officials enabled me to engage on a range of critical personal status and statelessness issues impacting persons of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic – and we will continue to focus efforts in this area in the coming weeks and months.
Greeting President Leonel Fernandez.
During much of my visit to Santo Domingo, I was joined by our friend and colleague Deputy Assistant Secretary Julissa Reynoso, from the State Department's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.
In Haiti, I spent my first day in Port au Prince, accompanied by Deputy Assistant Administrator Susan Reichle from USAID's Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. We spent much of the time conferring with UN and international organization officials – including the new UN Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Haiti Nigel Fisher – with whom we discussed protection concerns, such as combating gender based violence and sexual exploitation and abuse, aid coordination, and related issues. Susan and I also traveled to the Ancien Aeroport camp for internally displaced people (IDPs), which houses about 50,000 IDPs. The challenges are daunting – in particular, how to continue to enhance protection in camps with well over one million people, while at the same time creating stronger incentives for people to consider moving back to their home areas (or other resettlement sites) as conditions permit. Moreover, while it is critically important that we respect and promote Haitian government leadership in this effort, the government's capacity was severely impacted by the earthquake.
The sea of makeshift structures on the tarmac of the Ancien Aeroport is now an IDP camp –temporarily home to over 50,000 displaced Haitians.
On my second day in Haiti, we traveled to the border with the Dominican Republic, visited the site where the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative has set up a field hospital and rehabilitation center (and saved so many lives and limbs), and spoke with local government officials. As many as 160,000 Haitians are estimated to have fled Port au Prince for areas near the border, and the economic challenges that were clearly evident in the areas we visited left me confident that our decision to channel humanitarian support to the border (even at the modest levels we are providing) was a sound one.
On the Haiti side of the Jimani-Malpasse border crossing market area, trucks await permission to enter the country from the Dominican Republic. Crossing is made difficult by the chronic flooding of Haiti's Lake Azuei.
The trip was very valuable – it enhanced our appreciation of the protection, aid coordination and capacity-building challenges in Haiti, and will inform Washington-based efforts in the weeks and months to come. Moreover, we commenced what I believe could prove to be a very valuable dialogue with Dominican officials on issues relating to personal status and citizenship.
Before closing, I want to express my deepest appreciation to PRM, USAID and U.S. Embassy staff in Port au Prince and Santo Domingo for terrific support provided during the trip. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake and in the months that have followed, so many U.S. officials on the ground, joined by Haitian citizens and representatives of international and non-governmental organizations, performed heroically, and continue to be tireless advocates for vulnerable persons.
Many thanks, and kind regards,
Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration