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Haiti-Dominican Republic : Lake Azuei, a bridge for child traffickers

By Milo Milfort

P-au-P, 4 Oct. 2012 [AlterPresse] --- Lake Azuei, also called Brackish Pond, is not only Haiti´s main natural lake covering over 110 km2 of land, but is also visually spectacular. Aquatic plants dot the area mixed with alligators, eels and fresh tilapia fish. But it is also a place of high activity for child traffickers.

The lake represents a strategic area uncontrolled and unprotected between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, a bi-national threat to the stability of relations between the two countries.

"The lake is used by Haitian-Dominican trafficking networks to get Haitian children across into the neighboring country," says Father Antoine Lissaint, Director of the Jesuit Refugee and Migrant organization, at a workshop in Fonds-Parisien (a small village 10 kilometers from the Dominican border) bringing together Haitian and Dominican reporters.

"The majority of all children trafficked from one country to the other don´t cross the main land border. We observed that most children cross the lake in canoes,” says Lissaint.

The Jesuit director reveals that the favorite prey of traffickers are children ranging from eight to sixteen years old as well as women. He adds that other border issues include an alarming level of violence and constant tension between the inhabitants from both sides of the island.

Lake Azuei : another border, a wild border

Both small boats and canoes move back and forth on Lake Azuei. In rainy weather, the waters rise and spill over the banks flooding the roads linking the two countries. But the Haitian state is nowhere to be seen.

"The Haitian government doesnt control the traffic on the lake which the traffickers use to move the children back and forth," says Lissaint, adding that he doesn´t know the exact number of child-trafficking victims and level of smuggling that happens at the border.

Edwidge Laguerre, the Haitian migration inspector, says he´s aware of acts of smuggling and trafficking but admits to being unable to act because these operations are carried out on the lake, an area which is not under the immigration authorities control.

"Up until now, we haven´t been able to control the entire Haitian-Dominican border. This is not only an immigration problem, but is a complex problem that the Haitian government must solve,” he adds. "Some Haitian border areas don´t have any immigration controls. And traffickers take full advantage of this”.

On the other side of Lake Azuei, more and more new communities are settling right in front of the negligent eyes of the bi-national authorities.

According to local residents, people on both sides of the island are involved in supporting the trafficking operations, and Dominicans are hired to accompany the trafficked persons beyond the maritime boundary.

“Lake Azuei represents all the negative sides of the bi-national market”, says Marie Michèle Polynices, Vice-President of the Malpasse Traders Association during the workshop.

"The lake is a major problem. When it floods, it destroys the border market. We constantly have to build temporary protection measures to continue working,” she says. "A plan to prevent the lake rising is really needed."

Haitian officials and stakeholders involved in border issues spoke at the bi-national workshop carried out from the 19th to the 22nd of July 2012 in Barahona, Dominican Republic, which included both Haitian and Dominican journalists. [mm kft rs gp apr 04/10/2012 21:00]