How to Help in Haiti

The crisis in Haiti following last week’s devastating earthquake has shocked and saddened us all. The scale of loss of life, property, and livelihoods is almost inconceivable. While RefugePoint does not work directly in Haiti, we wanted to let you know that we are monitoring the crisis and are participating in advocacy efforts to help the Haitian people. RefugePoint is a member of a consortium of refugee agencies called Refugee Council USA (RCUSA). Here are a few examples of the advocacy we are engaged in through RCUSA:

– Last week we succeeded in persuading the U.S. Government to grant Temporary Protected Status for Haitians who are already in the U.S. and cannot return home. Haitians are now eligible to remain in the country for 18 months, or until it is determined that Haiti is safe for return. This is estimated to benefit roughly 130,000 people.

– Through RCUSA, we are also advocating for more favorable treatment of Haitians in need of evacuation from Haiti for urgent medical care. The U.S. is allowing some to seek care in the U.S., but on a very restricted basis.

– RCUSA is engaged in contingency planning in the event of mass outflows of refugees from Haiti. Various scenarios for sheltering and caring for large numbers of refugees are being considered – including possible use of the base at Guantanamo, which has been used in the past to temporarily house refugees from Cuba and Haiti.

– Some members of RCUSA are using this new spotlight on Haiti to push for more favorable policies towards Haitian refugees generally. While the U.S. is generous in other aspects of its refugee program, it is notoriously ungenerous where Haiti is concerned. Haitians fleeing to the U.S. by boat are intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard before they reach our shores and returned to Haiti, in order to prevent them from applying for asylum in the U.S. This is in breach of the 1951 Refugee Convention and the obligations of the U.S. as a signatory to the Convention.

Several of the member agencies of RCUSA are operating on the ground in Haiti to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis, notably the International Rescue Committee and Jesuit Refugee Services. Both of these agencies are well respected and well run, in our experience. Many people have asked us which agencies working in Haiti we would recommend donating to. The two above are among those recommended, as are Partners in Health, Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group, and Doctors Without Borders. One strong recommendation that I would make is whomever you give to, don’t earmark the gift for Haiti. Give to the agency’s unrestricted funds so that they can use the funds where they see the greatest needs. Earmarking money for a particular crisis can result in wasteful and ineffectual spending and also very lopsided treatment of various crises. Here’s an excellent commentary (if you overlook the title) on why it’s important to give unrestricted funds.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Haitian people. RefugePoint will continue to join with our Refugee Council colleagues in helping to alleviate the crisis as best we can.