Hundreds of Haitians living abroad in France, Canada and the United States are expected to fly home this week as Haiti celebrates diaspora week.
The five-day gathering, now in its second year, will not only highlight the contributions and concerns of Haiti’s estimated 4.5 million citizens living abroad, but it will also focus on what their quake-recovering nation has to offer for those considering investing or moving back home.
“Our message this week is for the diaspora to unite,” said Bernice Fidelia, Haiti’s Minister of Haitians Living Abroad.
A former Miami-Dade County Commission aide, Fidelia was herself a member of the diaspora until she was tapped by President Michel Martelly two months ago to head the ministry during a government reshuffle. Now, in her new role, she’s committed to getting others to follow suit.
“They have to be the ones that really put their heads together for the reconstruction of the country,” she said. “Yes we have the international community’s help. But only a child of the house can take care of the house.”
Helping the government in this endeavor is Haitian Diaspora Working in Haiti/ L’Association de la Diaspora Travaillant en Haiti (ADHTH). The organization helps returnees navigate Haiti’s complex environment, which includes everything from knowing the exact port fees on relocation items, to getting a National Identification Card, to getting a Haitian passport, a benefit now granted to naturalized Haitians under the constitution.
“Our goal is to not only have the diaspora return, but to make sure that their return is sustainable,” said Arielle Jean-Baptiste, founder of the diaspora group. “Haiti is a complex place. It takes love and commitment to come back and stay. But believe it or not, Haiti has its rewards.”
In addition to hearing from Jean-Baptiste’s group, attendees will hear directly from other ministers and government representatives as they address concerns about crime and security, development and a controversial education initiative being funded by the diaspora via a tax on telecommunications and wire transfers.
Introduced by Martelly in 2011, the education tax has been a sore point to many Haitians living abroad who have criticized the government’s lack of transparency and accountability about the fund. According to the Inter-American Development Bank, Haitians living abroad sent nearly $2.1 billion home in 2011 — a quarter of Haiti’s national income. The monetary institution has also noted that Haiti also suffers from severe brain drain with 84 percent of its university graduates living abroad.
Fidelia, who hopes to change those statistics, said she plans to address the tax issue during the week. She also has invited Haiti’s ambassadors to Brazil, the United States, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela to discuss issues affecting Haitians in those countries. Meanwhile, her ministry is in the process of setting up a hotline for people to call with concerns and issues, she said. The conference ends Sunday.
“If my job is to integrate and help provide guidance for those who want to return home or invest in the country,” Fidelia said, “I should be able to give them the affinity to move back to Haiti.”