“Haiti: first group of children evacuated to French West Indies returns home
Port-au-Prince (ICRC / French Red Cross) – Seven Haitian children evacuated to Martinique immediately after the earthquake struck Haiti on 12 January were finally able to rejoin their families in Port-au-Prince on 7 July.
The children, aged 2 to 17, were among 68 unaccompanied Haitian children identified and registered by the French Red Cross in the French West Indies in May. All had been injured in the earthquake and had been attended to by foreign medical staff before being taken to Guadeloupe or Martinique for medical care.
The other children are still in the French West Indies, either for medical reasons or because their families have still not been found.
‘When the French Red Cross sent us the children’s names, we quickly realized that, in most cases, the families knew that their children had been evacuated. So we tried to maintain contact between them and their families and to wrap up the administrative formalities,’ said Isabelle Jeanneret, who is in charge of a programme of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) aiming to restore family links in Haiti. ‘However, contact had not yet been restored with the families of 21 children who had to be evacuated in a great hurry.’
The ICRC then set about searching actively for the families in Haiti. To date, it has found the parents of 13 of the children. ‘For some of them, we had incomplete addresses. For others, the families had already filed a tracing request with the ICRC,’ said Ms Jeanneret. ‘That was the case, for example, of a very anxious young man who asked us to find his three brothers and sisters. It soon transpired that his siblings had been among those evacuated to Martinique.’
The operation to bring the children home was mounted in close cooperation with the families and with the hospitals into which the children had been admitted, and with support from the French authorities in Guadeloupe and Martinique. The French embassy in Port-au-Prince, together with the French Red Cross, will see to it that counselling and medical monitoring are provided for the children and that the poorest among them are given material aid.
Most of the children whose parents have still not been found are very young. For example, a three-year-old girl registered by the ICRC cannot even say what her own name is, let alone her parents’ names. The effort to trace the families is therefore continuing.
Since January, the ICRC has attempted to trace the relatives of 142 unaccompanied children and has processed 121 tracing requests made by parents whose children disappeared in connection with the earthquake. Five months after the disaster, Red Cross staff had helped to reunite 17 children with their relatives and restored contact between 56 others and their families.”