Mass migration of quake survivors begins

Hundreds of thousands of Haitians fight to escape city they once flocked to for jobs

After the disaster: exodus. Hundreds of thousands of Haitians are clogging up Port-au-Prince's pavements, ports and bus stations, hoping to flee the ruined capital. They are frustrated at the failure of significant quantities of aid to reach them in the city and are hoping to rebuild their shattered lives overseas or in the countryside.

The mass migration gained pace yesterday when the government began laying on free buses to transport roughly half a million refugees to camps in rural areas of Haiti undamaged by last week's earthquake. Most of these displaced people have been sleeping under tarpaulins in parks and squares since the disaster.

Huge queues formed outside the Catholic Church of St Pierre in Petionville, where 5,000 victims have now been living for over a week. Their homes are rubble, and most have lost close family members. Conditions are growing increasingly unsanitary. They have only four portable toilets between them.

"If I stay here, I have nothing. No food, no water. And there will soon be disease. So I have decided that it is not safe for my child, and I must therefore get out," said Adeline Pillarduit, who was holding a carrier bag full of her worldly goods in one arm, and her two-year-old son Alexandre in the other.

"I have been here since 4.30am, waiting for the white bus to arrive. There are now maybe 300 people here sitting with me, and only space for 50 or 60 on the bus. Since there is no formal queue, only people prepared to fight will be able to get on when it arrives. I could be here for days."

Haiti's Interior Minister, Paul Antoine Bien-Aimé, said yesterday that he expected 400,000 people to agree to go to tent villages across the country. The first 100,000 will go to camps of 10,000 each near the northern village of Croix-des-Bouquets.

But the prospect is unappealing to most Haitians, who know that the rainy season is due to start in April. Traditionally, the Caribbean country spends every July and August dodging destructive hurricanes. Many of the refugees sitting on piles of baggage are hoping to avoid camps by staying with relatives. They plan to return to Port-au-Prince, one of the only places in Haiti where there is a chance of gainful employment, as soon as local businesses are back up and running.

The mass migration from Port-au-Prince is reversing an historic trend. Migration by job-seekers from the countryside meant that the city, which had a population of 400,000 some years ago, had swollen to accommodate between two and three million people before the quake.

"I'm going to my mother and father's house," said 18-year-old Chereline Esperant, from Les Cayes, in the south-west of the country. "They sent me here to work, and I had a job in a supermarket. But now that is destroyed. So there is no way for me to be able to send money back to them."

Luc Fortune, 30, was also headed to Les Cayes. "My mother died during the quake, but my father lives there," he said. "Here, I don't have anything. Conditions are awful. I came here to work as an apprentice. Now I must give that up."

Until now, their only escape has been on commercial buses, which have limited fuel supplies, and are hiking up fares. One man said he could only afford to send his wife and two children to his parents' home near the western port town of Saint-Marc, so was forced to stay behind to seek free transport.

"It cost 50 Haitian dollars, which is three or four times the normal price," he said. "Now I am waiting to join them. Until I do that, I have nothing. The only thing I can eat or drink is what I am given. I'm counting on the generosity of others."

Every day, more aid trucks can be seen in Port-au-Prince. But Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) is now warning that diarrhoea, respiratory tract infections and other diseases related to poor sanitation may start to threaten lives. Many untreated victims now face a growing risk of serious illness from tetanus, gangrene and sepsis.

Small boats are taking survivors to other destinations in Haiti, and at least one ferry, the Trois Rivières, is carrying large numbers of people to Port Jérémie, in the south-west of Haiti. It anchors near Port-au-Prince and picks up anyone who can row out to it.

The earthquake is also expected to see an increase in immigration, legal and otherwise, to other countries in the region. Haiti Press Network, a local French-language news agency, has reported an "exodus without precedent" from ports, with small boats heading to Cuba, The Bahamas and Miami. "They are going anywhere," it said, "provided they can leave Haiti."

Pierre Sardack, a 33-year-old chaplain, was in Petionville trying to find transport to the Dominican Republic, despite long queues being reported at the border. He hopes to secure a visa for the US or Canada, where he has relatives. "Here, we have nothing. I no longer have a house, I no longer have a job, and I have no other way to look after my children," he said. "They say that rich countries will make it easier for Haitians to move there because of the tragedy. I just hope they are right."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue