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Indians in Haiti seek help to rebuild lives

February 18, 2010 10:56 IST

A small community of Indians based in quake-ravaged Haiti have appealed to the government back home to provide them financial assistance to rebuild their lives.

These people not only lost their homes and cars in the devastating January 12 earthquake of magnitude 7.0, but also the money they had in the banks which too collapsed in the tremor, the worst to hit the tiny Caribbean nation that claimed an estimated two lakh lives.

They had presented Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Shashi Tharoor, with a written demand for compensation when he visited Port-au-Prince two weeks after the earthquake.

"They (Indian officials) listened, they promised but nothing has happened," said Eddy Handal, the honorary consul for the Indian government, while also referring to a visit by the officials of the Indian embassy in Cuba.

Tharoor said he was deeply sympathetic about the Indians in Haiti but the purpose of his visit had a broader mandate of expressing solidarity with Haitians, grieving the loss of UN personnel and boosting the morale of Indian peacekeepers engaged in relief work in the aftermath of the quake.

Handal, a Haitian businessman, noted that while Indian government had provided five million dollars for relief efforts, it had not extended any monetary help to its own citizens here. "Why not also provide for your own people," he asked.

Officials familiar with the matter said presently there was no provision for providing financial help for Indians in the event of a natural disaster abroad. Further, changes to existing system would need examination by several arms of the government.

Another problem for Indians, who are a small community of around 30 engineers and business people here, was getting back to their native country.

The Indians wanted a return ticket back home, but the government said that it could only allow repatriation.

This was not an option that appealed to many people since it involved cancellation of one's passport on arrival and paying for a new passport, which is issued only after the cost of the ticket has been reimbursed.

Without the repatriation option, a few Indians, who wanted to leave this country, could not do so because they were unable to get into the neighbouring Dominican Republic -- the only way out of here since there were no direct commercial flights in and out of Haiti.

Several Indians living in Haiti have a US visa, which allows them to get to the Dominican Republic without the country-specific visa. However, persons with an Indian passport and Haitian visa cannot get into Santo Domingo, the capital of Dominican Republic without the country's visa.

"The embassy of the Dominican Republic in Haiti was just not accessible," said Sanjay Paul, an engineer who was trying to reach Santo Domingo. "My wife was very afraid and wanted me to come back but I could not leave."

Presently, Paul is out of work since his office building collapsed in the quake and cannot afford the visa to Dominican Republic, which costs around $200.

Indians here asserted that in difficult circumstances, visas should have been provided free and expeditiously. They complained that the government did not provide for their immediate needs following the earthquake. "They (the officials) made all promises that did not lead to anything," Bipin Karkhanis, an Indian hotelier here, told PTI.

The primary demand of the community was to get some money since they quickly ran out of cash after the disaster struck. "More than a month has passed since the 7.0 earthquake struck. A handful of Indians left for home but those who remain are getting back on their feet," said Chris Pavana, a businessman originally from Cochin. "We've made our arrangements but we just needed some help right after the earthquake."

Large parts of the capital city have been completely destroyed and the Inter-American Development Bank has calculated that it will take $14 billion to rebuild the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere.

Paul, whose house was destroyed in the quake, continues to sleep in the open because of the persisting aftershocks. "Could the Indian government not help just a few of us Indians," he asked.

Betwa Sharma Port-au-Prince