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Haiti: tracing evacuated children

09-04-2010 Feature

Three months on from the earthquake, radio stations are back on the air, phones and Internet are working again. These technologies have enabled many people to find their relatives. However, some parents are still desperately searching for their children, evacuated to unknown destinations in the chaos that immediately followed the quake. ICRC and Haitian Red Cross teams are doing all they can to reunite the families. A report from Olga Miltcheva in Port-au-Prince.

©ICRC/O. Miltcheva 
Mimose and her son Claudel, back together at last. 

©ICRC/O. Miltcheva 
Salvanie with her other daughter, Cama-Lisa (3). "Since Saïda's been gone Cama-Lisa cries a lot and has trouble sleeping. She keeps asking for her sister." 

Despite her injured foot, Mimose is running. She is running fast, arms open wide, to welcome her son. The energetic 38-year-old has spent most of her life here in Martissant, one of the poorest areas of the Haitian capital. She lost her house and most of her possessions in the 12 January earthquake. " We're living from day to day. But I'm happy despite it all. My family survived, and now the Red Cross has brought my child back to me, " she explains, hugging her son tightly.

His name is Claudel. At the tender age of 13, he has already flown over Haiti twice. The first time was in a helicopter, just after the disaster, scared stiff and clenching his teeth on account of the pain in his leg, broken by a concrete block. The second time was in an aeroplane, following an operation and a few weeks at Milo Hospital in Cap Haïtien, where a rescue team had taken him.

" I was really afraid at first. I didn't know where they were taking me or when I would see my mother again. But then we were able to talk to each other by phone. "


 Chaotic evacuations  

Finding his parents could have turned out much harder for one young patient at the hospital in Cap Haïtien. Jamesly was evacuated from Port-au-Prince just after the earthquake, shortly after his second birthday. No-one asked his name, or that of his parents.

" Luckily, his father thought to write his phone number on the little boy's tummy. That's how we managed to find his family. It's no t easy to think of something like that in the middle of a disaster, " explains Isabelle Jeanneret, head of the ICRC's restoring family links operation in Haiti.

 Taken abroad?  

Salvanie is still looking for her nine-year-old daughter. She makes no effort to hide her tears. After a night of terror, Saïda was pulled alive from the ruins of her school, amidst the cries and tears of the survivors. To get her into hospital as fast as possible, her mother loaded her into a car full of other casualties. But there was no room in the car for Salvanie. " That's the last time I saw her, " she says. When she got to the hospital, she was told that several patients had been evacuated out of the country.

" When we have reliable information indicating that a child has been sent abroad, we contact the Red Cross Society of the country concerned, and they look for the child. Being able to work as a network is one of the great strengths of the Red Cross Movement, " explains Ms Jeanneret. " We will do all we possibly can to find Saïda. "