CWS Cuban-Haitian Entrant Program Serves Earthquake Medical Evacuees

With its three decades of experience implementing the U.S. Cuban/Haitian Entrant Program in a working partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Church World Service is used to adjusting to change.

Jean Louis Geraldy and Naromie Baltazar

Haitian medical evacuee client Jean Louis Geraldy, with his wife Naromie Baltazar, who assisted with his resettlement to Brooklyn, N.Y.
CAMBA photo

Miami, Florida — With its three decades of experience implementing the U.S. Cuban/Haitian Entrant Program in a working partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Church World Service is used to adjusting to change. For example, consider Cubans who successfully reach South Florida by boat or raft.

"They arrive without notice," said Oscar Rivera, Director of the CWS Miami Office, which is on the front lines of receiving new entrants. "There may be five or 50 at a time. For awhile, we were getting called to come pick up rafters at the river, then from the Health Department, and now from Marathon Key. We're always adjusting to changes."

So when the U.S. government began repatriating its citizens from Haiti following the devastating earthquake January 12, the CWS Miami Office staff mobilized quickly to help. Both Kreyol- and Spanish-speaking staff gave up their evenings and weekends to volunteer with the State of Florida to receive these often traumatized people at the Miami International Airport, guide them through the airport and help them get to their ultimate destination – whether that was in South Florida, elsewhere in the United States, or even in Canada.

Then came a second, more challenging wave of arrivals: medical evacuees and their accompaniers from Haiti. Most were admitted to the United States with humanitarian parole and enrolled in the U.S. Cuban/Haitian Entrant Program. During the weeks following the earthquake, CWS was called upon to organize support for 63 medevacs and 48 accompaniers.

Most were evacuated to hospitals in Miami, Fla., and Atlanta, Ga., although five were flown to Durham, N.C. These severely injured Haitians needed not only urgent medical care, but also material, logistical and social support. While some of their accompaniers were allowed to stay in the hospital with their loved ones, others needed to be put up in hotels and transported daily to and from the hospital. And, since most came with next to nothing, they needed clothing, food and other basics.

On the front lines of assistance: the CWS Immigration and Refugee Program's Miami Office, CWS affiliate Refugee Resettlement and Immigration Services of Atlanta (RRISA), and the CWS/IRP Durham Office.

CWS had worked with medevacs before – of Haitians in 1992 and Cubans in 1994, all via Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They came with such injuries as burns, broken legs, and heart attacks, Rivera said. "But this year's medevacs had injuries of a whole different magnitude – much more severe than we'd ever seen. Some are paralyzed, some are amputees. Some have suffered brain damage or are survivors of severe burns who are even today getting skin grafts. While most are out of the hospital now, several remain hospitalized. Sadly, three did not survive their injuries."

Most of the medevacs and their accompaniers were admitted to the United States with humanitarian parole and enrolled in the U.S. Cuban/Haitian Entrant Program. Following release from the hospital, some have stayed in either Miami, Atlanta or Durham, and others went on to other cities to recuperate.

By the end of June, CWS affiliates in Louisville, Ky.; Lancaster, Pa.; Portland, Ore.; Houston, Texas, and Syracuse, N.Y., had received medevac clients and were helping them with food, lodging, cash assistance, transportation to medical appointments, community orientation and social support. In addition, CWS-Miami also sent family reunifications to Brooklyn, N.Y.; Jacksonville, Fla., and Chicago, Ill. One of the medevacs, a doctor, recovered from his injuries and returned to his work at a hospital in Haiti.

For its part, the CWS Miami Office has "gotten a lot of recognition for the work we've done, which has gotten our name out widely within the South Miami Haitian community," Rivera said. "For example, when the Haitian American Nurses Association heard that we were helping the medevacs, they came to our office to volunteer their services. That was especially helpful in cases where medevacs were having trouble getting therapy and other aftercare upon release from the hospital."

CWS Immigration and Refugee Program Director Erol Kekić said CWS's response in Haiti, its legal assistance to Haitians in the United States wishing to apply for Temporary Protected Status, and its support for the Haitian medical evacuees are part of "one program of emergency assistance."

 

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