January 27, 2010 STATEMENT — LIRS Responds to Haiti Crisis: Best Interest Determinations for Separated and Unaccompanied Haitian Children

Press Contact: Stacy Martin, Vice President for Mission Advacement
410-230-2847, lirspress@lirs.org

BALTIMORE, January 27, 2010–Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) shares the world’s concern for the children of Haiti and their future. Our concern is not only one of humanitarian impulse, but is directly correlated to our experience with working with unaccompanied and separated children. We are closely monitoring the situation that a growing number of Haitian children face as a result of the tragic earthquake and its aftermath. LIRS recognizes the strong efforts already at work by governmental, international, and NGO partners who are assisting these children with their immediate needs.

LIRS has a long history of working with unaccompanied Haitian children in the United States, who are living in the throes of migration. This history of service and our subsequent expertise requires LIRS to weigh in as the international community collectively works to determine how best to preserve bright futures for each and every one of the Haitian children who has fallen victim to the devastating earthquake. The destruction and resulting chaos has predictably caused children to become separated from family members.

LIRS has worked diligently with the international community to establish protocols based upon recognized child welfare standards, particularly for those children who find themselves separated from customary caregivers in times of crisis.

The internationally accepted principles upon which LIRS operates are child-centered and four specific principles are of most concern in regard to Haiti’s separated or unaccompanied children:

  • Children have a right to preserve their identity, including nationality, name and family relations
  • The best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration in all actions concerning children
  • Any child that is capable of forming his or her views is to be given the opportunity to have these views heard and given due consideration
  • The continued participation in one’s traditional cultural life is a recognized human right and essential for children that have suffered trauma[1]

LIRS offers, in response to the current crisis surrounding the movement of highly vulnerable children in Haiti, six recommendations based upon the above principles:

    1. Prioritize the provision of emergency medical treatment to children, including the evacuation of children who cannot receive adequate medical treatment inHaiti. Include provisions for an adult relative or caretaker to accompany the child whenever possible and screen any child traveling alone for possible family reunification.
    2. Ensure that each separated and unaccompanied child in Haiti is properly and comprehensively registered and screened, and that all of the information needed to initiate family tracing is collected. Children should remain with their relatives and customary caretakers whenever possible. All children must receive careful screening prior to any consideration of evacuation or relocation so that the risks of child trafficking or unnecessary familial separation are abated.
    3. Support the efforts of UNICEF and others to establish safe havens in Haiti for children who are separated from family or unable to safely reside with known relatives.
    4. Support the efforts to unify children that have, prior to the earthquake, been identified as eligible for international adoption and matched with approved adoptive parents. Ensure that all adoptive placements meet established international adoption criteria and are supervised post placement.
    5. Promote all efforts to reunify unaccompanied children with family members within Haiti prior to considering any movement of children out of the country.
    6. Request that U.S.immigration authorities provide humanitarian parole where necessary to maintain family integrity of evacuees. Many families are composed of members with mixed immigration status (some family members may beU.S.citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents while others are Haitian citizens).

While we understand the good intentions of individuals who seek to provide love and support for Haiti’s vulnerable children, we believe that, if enacted, the above recommendations will provide the best route for ensuring that our community’s response meets every child’s needs while safeguarding against unnecessary loss of family, community and culture.

As always, LIRS and its substantial network of affiliated Unaccompanied Refugee Minor foster care service providers stand ready to meet the needs of these incredibly traumatized and vulnerable children. LIRS looks forward to continued partnership in aiding these children, for whom the world has a special interest.

LIRS is a pan-Lutheran agency, in cooperative agreement with the Evangelical Church Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (LELCA). LIRS partners with denominational entities and sister Lutheran organizations, such as Lutheran World Relief and Lutheran World Federation, who have been operational in Haiti and the Dominican Republic for many years and are currently providing essential services during this period of crisis.

Immediate disaster response will continue in the months ahead. The situation on the ground changes daily and LIRS will seek ways to help domestic Haitian communities as well as to help unaccompanied and separated Haitian children.


 

[1] See 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child