Visiting Anse-a-Galets: Home to 16,000 new arrivals

February 3, 2010
Photo by Niall Carson/PA Wire

While there are no tent camps on the Haitian island of La Gonâve, there is a influx of refugees from mainland Haiti. Earthquake survivors who fled to the tiny island are mostly staying with family, either inside or camped around family property. Despite the family connection most refugees have and the willingness of local government to help, there’s simply not enough room and not enough aid to go around.

We arrived at the port of Anse-a-Galets, La Gonâve’s largest town, and nothing seemed amiss. Boys were still fishing off the pier, roughhousing and mugging for visitors, and islanders were slowly trickling into the dockside with their bundles to wait for the main Port-au-Prince ferry, still a couple of hours away.

It seemed no different than any arrival on the island.  Surely the predictions of a wave of earthquake refugees overwhelming La Gonâve were over exaggerated. We’d soon find otherwise.

We arrived at the port of Anse-a-Galets, La Gonâve’s largest town, and nothing seemed amiss.

Our first stop was a meeting with a top elected official, vice delegate Esper Feno.  Feno has been in charge of collecting data from the island’s 30 civil protection committees in coordination with Haitian Red Cross. The committees are groups of volunteers trained by Concern in disaster risk reduction and early response.

They counted almost 9,000 recent arrivals – mostly from greater Port-au-Prince.  Numbers on the other side of the island – most arriving from Leogane and Petit Gonave, were tracking toward 5,000 – 7,000, making for a total of perhaps 16,000 – or a 20% increase of the island population.

“We absolutely cannot support all of these additional families,” he said. “These are our brothers and sisters and we welcome them, but there is not enough food, not enough water, nor enough jobs to support all of us.  We will need help.”

He explained that there were no tent camps because most of the refugees have family on La Gonâve and were staying outside homes, in schools or elsewhere in host communities.  A large number – 250 families or approximately 1,300 people — have fled to Grand Source in the mountainous center of the island, some because of family ties, many due to fear of a tsunami.

“These are our brothers and sisters and we welcome them, but there is not enough food, not enough water, nor enough jobs to support all of us.  We will need help.”