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Look out for Haitians!

Thursday, February 07, 2013    

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GOVERNMENT yesterday appealed to Jamaicans to be on the lookout for more Haitian boat people in wake of Tuesday's arrival of 25 in the eastern parish of Portland.

Minister with responsibility for Information Senator Sandrea Falconer made the appeal in light of information that some nine boats left the impoverished Caribbean country earlier this week, with one ending up in Jamaica.

"It is important that Jamaicans be on the look-out and be our eyes and ears and report any sightings, if there are any others, to the authorities so we can do the screenings and make sure that they are kept in a quarantine area and be repatriated when the time is right," Falconer told the weekly Jamaica House press briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister in Kingston yesterday.

Deputy Director General of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) Richard Thompson said the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) and the United States Coast Guard have been searching for the other boats, without any success.

In the meantime, it is costing taxpayers $45,000 daily to feed the 45 Haitians but the Government says it has to ensure they are given proper care.

"We want to cut down the length of time they are on our shores, but as long as they are here we have to ensure that they are taken care of and that they are given medical treatment, food and shelter," Falconer said.

She said the Haitians have already undergone several medical tests and there were no health concerns, despite Haiti grappling with an outbreak of cholera in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, which killed thousands of people and left the infrastructure of the capital and other sections of the country in ruins.

Thompson said discussions were being held with the Ministry of National Security and the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) for the Haitians to be repatriated.

He noted, however, that a timeline has not yet been set for the repatriation of the Haitians, who were up to yesterday being housed at the Port Antonio Seventh-day Adventist Church hall.

"We are working with the Ministry of Housing to move them to another location in Portland and at the end of that to have them repatriated," Thompson told the press briefing.

He said the Haitians would be transported home on a JDF coast guard vessel.

"That process (repatriation) is not a quick process so we try to ensure it is speedily dealt with so they can be off the shore of Jamaica in a very quick time, given the economic challenges to feed them on a daily basis," Thompson said.

The Haitians — 16 men, two women, four boys and three girls, ages two to 14 year-old — were believed to have been bound for the United States when their rickety boat drifted off course and ended up in Jamaica.

The JDF and the US Coast Guard, Thompson said, spent the day searching for other vessels as information was received that some nine boats had left the impoverished French-speaking Caribbean country earlier in the week.

Meanwhile, Thompson reported that at least six of the 25 Haitians have already been to Jamaica with the two-year-old being born on the island when a group of 75 Haitians arrived in that parish in the immediate wake of the hurricane.

Senator Falconer said checks are being made to determine what treatment will be given to the case involving the child who was born here and her family.

Members of the public can make donations to ODPEM to assist with the care of the refugees while they are here.

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