Sat, Apr 03, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Haitians who escaped to US released


A group of Haitians who landed almost by chance in the US without documents in the chaotic aftermath of the quake were released on Thursday after several weeks in detention.

Some of the Haitians went to the Port-au-Prince airport looking for food, some for work.

Then, amid the chaos, US Marines waved them onto a plane. They were suddenly bound for the US, with no documents or visas.

This is roughly what happened to more than 30 Haitians who found themselves at the international airport right after the Jan. 12 quake, and were promptly locked up on arrival in South Florida.

However, after two-and-a-half months in detention, 32 of the Haitians were released, Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center (FIAC) executive director Cheryl Little said.

Immigrant advocates and lawyers said the group includes mostly unrelated men and women who went to the airport as aid shipments poured in, and saw an unexpected, brief opportunity to leave the devastation.

One of them, for example, was waved onto a plane with family members who were US citizens, to accompany a child.

Many in the group are deeply traumatized, said FIAC statewide director Charu al-Sahli, who has worked closely with detainees.

Al-Sahli said one man lost his three-year-old daughter in the magnitude 7.0 earthquake. Another has had no news of his nine-year-old twins, while a third lost both parents.

“It’s striking to me how many are clearly showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder,” said al-Sahli, adding that one of the detainees has suffered several panic attacks in detention. “It’s been two-and-a-half months that most of these people have been detained. They were waved onto a plane. They committed no criminal act.”

FIAC had been asking the government for several weeks to release the Haitians into the care of relatives who are US citizens.

Ronise Augustin, of Hallandale, in South Florida, said she received a call early on Thursday from her detained brother, Emmanuel Philogene, to say he was about to be released.

“He sounded so happy ... I’m happy he’s going to be with me,” she said.

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