Haiti: The Diaspora at the Heart of Reconstruction

Date Publish: 
Haiti / America

Haitian geographer George Anglade, who died during the 12 January
earthquake, had a passion for literature and for all things
Haitian.  He used to say that the 4 million strong diaspora
was a pillar of the country, contributing some 2 billion dollars
yearly in remittances. Today, many say the diaspora should play a
leading role in the reconstruction of the country.

It's a view shared by Haiti's Minister in charge of Haitians
abroad, Edwin Paraison, who believes Haitian expatriates play an
indispensable role in the reconstruction of this shattered

Until his nomination a year ago, Paraison was a vicar in the
Haitian Anglican church. He is a strong advocate for bringing
together Haitians with the skills, knowledge, expertise and
financial know how for the reconstruction effort.

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target="" title="">Migration Summer 2010

Over the past six months, Paraison has travelled the world to
meet expatriate communities and potential Haitian investors to
convince them to take a more active role in reconstruction

Clarence Renois from Haiti Press Network met with him as he was
about to embark on a tour of European countries where he was to
meet and hopefully convince Haitians, especially professionals, of
the urgency of returning to help their home country.

Among Renois' first questions was whether or not diaspora
representatives would have a voice in the government's decision
making process.

Edwin Paraison: The diaspora already has a
place within the Government of the Republic of Haiti and my role as
a minister is to engage in a constructive dialogue with the 4
million Haitians abroad. Furthermore, the diaspora will be
represented within the International Reconstruction Committee,
which has been set up to coordinate and manage the reconstruction
of Haiti. Although the diaspora representative will not have a
voting right, it will have one representative. This proves, if need
be, the government's political will to anchor members of the
Haitian diaspora in the reconstruction process. Of course, now we
need to decide who will represent the diaspora and this will be
done through a consultative process.

Clarens Renois: Realistically, what role could
Haitian expatriates play? How important is their participation?

Edwin Pasraison:  The diaspora really
wants to take an active part in the programme of reconstruction, on
two levels at least. Experienced managers could come back with the
support of the private sector or of international organizations.
Their expertise and local knowledge would also be an asset to
companies and agencies operating in Haiti. Secondly, many Haitians
abroad have expressed their desire to return home as part of
philanthropic activities. Finally, there are many Haitian
entrepreneurs who would like to set up businesses locally and we
will, help them to do so by making their return possible. We are
planning to work closely with the United Nations Development
Programme (UNDP) and the IOM on pilot projects to facilitate the
return of qualified Haitians. Despite the huge degree of solidarity
shown by expatriate Haitians, especially among the young, they
remain prudent. We therefore need to put in place concrete measures
that will reassure them so that we can all benefit from their
skills and knowledge.

Clarens Renois: What is the true economic
weight of the diaspora? 

Edwin Paraison: It's difficult to say right now
but its economic clout is bound to increase. Before the 12 January
quake, some 4 million Haitians sent back more than 2 billion US
dollars per year, which was used by families to purchase goods. The
truth is that most of the money is not put to productive
investments. We therefore need to find ways to encourage direct
investments from Haitian entrepreneurs abroad. We need to reach out
to them because to 2 billion US dollars sent back every year
represents less than 15% of the total financial assets abroad. The
human and financial assets of the diaspora must therefore be put to
good use in the reconstruction efforts.

Furthermore, according to the Interamerican Development Bank, 83
% of all qualified Haitians have left the country. After the quake
that killed some 300,000 people, we believe some 20,000
professionals left the country as part of family reunification
programmes put in place by some developed countries.  The
recent Organization of American States meeting, which recently took
place in Washington, has allowed the Haitian diaspora to establish
the foundation of its participation in the reconstruction of the
country. This and pledges made by the international community to
make more than 10 billion US dollars available for the
reconstruction will help Haiti, which remains the poorest country
in the Western Hemisphere.

© IOM 2010 (Photo : Mark Turner)