Diaspora

Martha’s Vineyard flights a small sliver of Mass. migrant crisis, religious leaders say – MassLive.com

While the 50 Venezuelan migrants that were transported to Martha’s Vineyard by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis did create a crisis on the island, Massachusetts was already experiencing a migrant crisis, according to some of the state’s religious leaders.
The leaders, members of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, participated in a virtual discussion Monday called Shelter Thy Neighbor: Martha’s Vineyard and the Mainland Migrant Crisis.
“The Martha’s Vineyard experience was a profound crisis… we saw nearly 50 people all at once, but at the same time, there’s a crisis that predates that, that in some ways has been slow moving but less visible,” said Rev. Laura Everett, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches.
Everett was referring to the continuous influx of Haitian migrants the Bay State has seen since Haiti President Jovenal Moïse was assassinated in July 2021.
At the time of the assassination the country still hadn’t fully recovered from an earthquake in 2010, which left Haiti in continuous turmoil ever since.
The country experienced another earthquake in November 2021 and the United Nations has reported that clashing rival gangs on the island have forced hundreds of Haitians to flee their homes.
The Immigrant Family Services Institute in Boston aided 2,139 Haitian migrants that arrived between June and August, according to Rev. Dieufort Fleurissaint of the Haitian Evangelical Pastors’ Association of Massachusetts.
The Haitian migrants are still coming into the Bay State, Fleurissaint said, with 50 to 60 people arriving in the state’s centers and hospitals on a daily basis. Massachusetts has the third largest Haitian population in the United States, Fleurissaint said.
“Up to now we are negotiating with the state to see how best we could accommodate those families who have just arrived,” Fleurissaint said.
Accommodating the families has sometimes meant looking outside of Boston.
Last week, close to 36 Haitian families were put up in three different hotels in Springfield and the week prior 90 families were placed in hotels in Worcester.
“As I said this is the crisis that we are facing throughout Massachusetts,” Fleurissaint said.
The state has allocated $8 million is ARPA funds for the Haitian migrants, but by the time the state passed the resolution there were already 1,600 Haitians in the state and since then close to 3,500 more have arrived, according to Fleurissaint.
Fleurissaint described the difficulties Haitian migrants have faced since leaving their homes.
“They have known so many evils and then traumatic situations. They’ve seen death, some of them lost their children on their way, had family members beaten, raped — all these situations. So they arrived here expecting to get a better, friendly welcome, but that wasn’t the case,” Fleurissaint said.
The state is experiencing a housing crisis, making it even harder to find housing for the Haitian migrants.
Fleurissant said in some cases they are turning to churches to house the migrants, with First Haitian Baptist Church housing families in their basement.
“We need coordinated efforts among the states, the cities and towns to see how best we can assist the families,” Fleurissant said.
Rev. Cathlin Baker is pastor for the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury was part of the volunteer response on Martha’s Vineyard and noted the community effort to help the Venezuelan migrants.
“All the congregations on the island were collaborating but we were also collaborating with nonprofits and with the police departments, the fire department, emergency services — many, many forces were working together,” Baker said.
She called the event a collective “consciousness-raising” for the residents of Martha’s Vineyard and said she thinks as a community they are ready to work in solidarity with other communities working on similar issues.
The volunteers on Martha’s Vineyard became very close with the Venezuelan migrants, according to Baker, because “we both were duped together.”
“It was very upsetting… seeing the faces of our Venezuelan friends when they realized that they had arrived somewhere that wasn’t expecting them and that didn’t have the services they needed,” Baker said.
The volunteers on the island could provide food and housing, but they didn’t have a “stable of immigration lawyers” and in some cases an ocean was between some of the migrants and their court dates, according to Baker.
She suggested congregations prepare for situations like the one Martha’s Vineyard faced by taking steps such as developing a list of the members of the congregation that can speak different languages and having a supply of hygiene kits at the ready.
Fleurissant said that in addition to needing accommodations, the Haitian migrants also need legal assistance, social services and emotional and psychological assistance. Everrett called on people listening to the meeting to aid in any way they could.
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