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Haitians mark poignant six-month quake anniversary

US extends relief for illegal Haitian immigrants
Washington (AFP) July 12, 2010 - The United States on Monday granted Haitians living illegally in the country before January's devastating earthquake a six-month extension to apply for a special asylum relief program. In the days after the January 12 earthquake, President Barack Obama's administration gave Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to thousands of Haitians who have sneaked into the United States in the past years. An immigrant granted TPS can stay legally in the United States for 18 months without fear of deportation, and following a review of their case, can obtain a temporary work permit.

"Eligible Haitian nationals will have an additional 180 days to apply for Temporary Protected Status," said a statement from the department of US Citizenship and Immigration Services. "Many Haitians need more time to apply for TPS," the statement added. Only Haitians living in the United States prior to the earthquake that flattened the capital Port-au-Prince and surrounding towns at the cost of some 250,000 lives are eligible. The new deadline for applications to be filed is January 18, 2011. The special protection, which allows groups of illegal immigrants to renew or obtain drivers licenses, and work legally, is meant as relief for countries reeling from natural disaster or political strife.

Supporters argue that the move helps Haiti to rebuild, as immigrants send remittances to loved ones in the poorest country in the Americas, which is struggling to rebuild exactly six months after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake. Before the order was given in January, authorities had been processing deportation orders for 30,000 Haitians now in the United States. The non-profit Migration Policy Institute however says 76,000 illegal immigrants from Haiti live in the United States, with a further 535,000 legally residing here, two thirds of them being adults of a working age. Hundreds of Haitians attempt the perilous 700-mile (1,100-kilometer) journey to the Florida coast each year, some in rafts, others smuggled by traffickers. But US officials estimate that thousands of Haitians have died at sea in failed bids to flee the poverty, unrest and natural disasters that have beset their homeland for decades.
by Staff Writers
Port-Au-Prince (AFP) July 12, 2010
Haitians marked a sad anniversary Monday, mourning the hundreds of thousands killed six months ago in a massive earthquake and eyeing a precarious future amid the slow trickle of aid.

In the ruins of the presidential palace toppled by the January 12 quake that measured 7.0 in magnitude, international supporters joined Haitian President Rene Preval and other leaders in a poignant remembrance ceremony.

"We are going to continue to help the people in the camps, but today we want to officially launch the reconstruction phase," said Preval.

Former US president Bill Clinton, who is heading up the UN effort, promised greater transparency in using the funds sent to help rebuild the impoverished Caribbean nation.

He was among those attending the ceremony along with US actor Sean Penn who has spent months in the country trying to help.

Some 250,000 people were killed and 1.5 million left homeless when the earth briefly convulsed on January 12, unleashing a trail of destruction on the capital, Port-au-Prince.

"We came down with the idea of spending about two weeks and trying to help out," Penn told CBS Monday.

"And there's something that takes over and it's really an obligation because you see the strength of the people who have never experienced comfort."

Tent cities have sprung up in and around the ruined capital of what was, even before the quake, the poorest country in the Americas, with little sign that those left homeless and destitute will move into more permanent housing any time soon.

Three months after an international conference in New York where world powers pledged more than 10 billion dollars over five years, only a fraction of the promised aid has materialized.

The US Center for Strategic and International Studies calculated Monday that just two percent or about 50 million dollars had actually arrived.

Private donations raised some 1.6 billion dollars for non-governmental organizations, but only 20 to 40 percent of the funds they have received have been disbursed, the CSIS said.

"In spite of this outpouring of generosity, the challenge of aid delivery remains a central issue," it wrote.

The United States vowed however it still stood by Haiti.

"Six months later, our resolve to stand with the people of Haiti for the long term remains undiminished," said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Cheryl Mills, a senior adviser to Clinton, said there have been successes in Haiti: no major disease outbreak, improved access to banking and -- unlike after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami -- little local inflation as aid pours in.

Interior Minister Paul-Antoine Bien-aime used Monday's remembrance to thank the international community for its help, saying the "situation would have been much worse" without the assistance as Haitians confronted "the worst catastrophe known to humanity."

But Haitians are growing impatient at the slow trickle of aid and the crawling pace of reconstruction, with rubble still blocking city streets, leading some experts to predict it could take 20 years to clear.

"We have moved 250,000 cubic meters of rubble, which sounds like a lot, until you realize there's 20 million cubic meters of rubble here," Imogen Wells, spokeswoman for the UN office of humanitarian affairs in Haiti, told CNN.

USAID chief Rajiv Shah said the amount of rubble still lying on the streets "is probably more than 20 times that which existed in other tragedies such as the World Trade Center" destroyed in the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Shah said one of the challenges was teaching local builders to make stronger cement "so that bricks stick together," adding some rebuilt homes in the Delmas slum were now two to three times stronger than before the quake.

According to the United Nations office in Haiti, nearly 4,000 small homes have been built in a project that anticipates building some 10,000 houses.

And the French Red Cross, which has vowed to build some 30,000 temporary homes with the American Red Cross, has launched construction of the first 500 outside the capital.

But the UN has warned that 130 tent cities have been identified as at risk from the current hurricane season that could further worsen conditions for the most vulnerable -- including thousands of orphaned children.

earlier related report
US vows to stay committed to Haiti
Washington (AFP) July 12, 2010 - The United States pledged Monday to stay committed to rebuilding Haiti six months after its devastating earthquake, despite inaction by Congress on approving longer-term aid.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, saluting the "resilience and strength" of the impoverished Caribbean nation, said the United States was "committed to aligning our investments with the needs of the people and government of Haiti."

"Six months later, our resolve to stand with the people of Haiti for the long term remains undiminished," she said in a statement. "We are committed to helping them realize the Haitian vision for a better nation."

Cheryl Mills, a senior adviser to Clinton, said there have been successes in Haiti: no major disease outbreak, improved access to banking and -- unlike after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami -- little local inflation as aid pours in.

She also hailed efforts to find homes for orphans, saying up to 1,200 parentless Haitian children are now with American families.

But while the United States spent more than 500 million dollars in the aftermath of the quake, Congress has not approved a bill that would authorize two billion dollars over two years to support longer-term reconstruction.

Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who co-authored the legislation that has cleared the committee level, urged his colleagues to pass the bill quickly.

"The window of opportunity is rapidly narrowing for an effective, coordinated international and Haitian effort that can make a real difference. We will all be responsible if progress grinds to a halt," Kerry said.

Rajiv Shah, administrator of the US Agency for International Development, said the United States was hoping to improve Haiti through stricter construction codes and working with local partners -- even if this took time.

"The priority should be on achieving the outcome as opposed to, say, the pace of program disbursement," Shah told reporters.

"Ultimately this is a unique opportunity to build back better and we will miss the opportunity if we don't get this right."

Some 250,000 people were killed and 1.5 million left homeless in the January 12 earthquake, which ravaged much of the capital Port-au-Prince.

An international conference in New York pledged more than 10 billion dollars over five years.

But the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think-tank, found that just two percent, or about 50 million dollars, had actually arrived.

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BP oil leak bill increases, as shares rise on sell-off talk
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