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Haitian orphans to come to Turkey

26 January 2010 [14:36] - TODAY.AZ
A Turkish aid group wants to relocate 700 Haitian children to Turkey to provide a safe and healthy environment for them to recover from the trauma of the earthquake, but experts say the group should not put the children through a second trauma – culture shock. 'What Haitian children need right now is urgent assistance where they are - in Haiti,' says a UNICEF official.

A Turkish aid group plans to bring 700 Haitian children orphaned or separated from their families after the earthquake to Turkey. The idea is raising eyebrows among psychologists who think relocating the children will only add to their trauma.

Professor Emine Öztürk Kılıç, head of the Child and Teenage Psychology Department at Yeditepe University, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review that children should stay with their families, relatives or people they know and trust in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

“[Haitian children] experienced a trauma and they should stay together to share their feelings with those who experienced the same trauma so that they can overcome the depression,” said Kılıç.

Turkish charity Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or İHH, is currently caring for 700 orphaned children in Haiti. Durmuş Aydın, the charity’s foreign relations officer, told the Daily News the İHH plans to bring the orphans to Turkey and care for them here.

Aydın said both the Turkish foreign and interior ministries have given full support to the project and that they are only awaiting the Haitian government’s approval before proceeding.

Officials from the Foreign Ministry, however, said no transfer procedures had yet been started but they did not deny the İHH’s claims.

Given the high number of children who were orphaned in the Haitian earthquake, other countries have already begun adopting children. Last week, the country’s government approved the adoption of 154 children by Canadian families while another 33 children adopted by French families arrived in France, the Agence France-Presse reported.

U.N. officials, however, warned that children in Haiti are vulnerable more than anyone else in the country, adding that some children had been taken from hospitals without being accompanied by any relatives.

"I can confirm that cases of trafficking and children disappearing are taking place. There are cases of undocumented withdrawals of children being discharged from hospitals," Jacques Boyer, deputy country director for UNICEF, told reporters at his headquarters in Port-au-Prince, the Agence France-Presse reported on Jan. 22.

İHH officials, on the other hand, said they would only bring children who are confirmed by the Haitian authorities to have no relatives or family alive in the country. “We are working with our co-partner in the United States, the Zakat Foundation of America, in Haiti. If we cannot get permission from the Haitian government, then we will work on building an orphanage in Haiti," said Aydın.

According to UNICEF, the priority of charities in Haiti should be identifying the unaccompanied children and reunifying them with their families or relatives.

“What Haitian children need right now is urgent assistance where they are – in Haiti,” UNICEF Media’s Christopher de Bono told the Daily News. “We need to find these children, provide them with life-saving emergency food, safe shelter and care, and we need to register them.”

De Bono said, “[Children separated from their families and caregivers] are at risk of malnutrition, disease and permanent psychological damage, as well increased exposure to the risk of sexual exploitation and trafficking.”

Although İHH officials said they would only bring children who are confirmed as orphans, some experts said separating the children from their country and culture, especially following a disaster, would have negative effects on the children’s psychology.

If the children come to Turkey, they will not be able to mourn for the people they lost due to the linguistic and cultural gaps and that might cause them to become more depressed, according to Kılıç, a child psychiatrist.

Kılıç also complained that Turkey could not offer psychological help to the children in its orphanages, which would make matters even more difficult for the Haitian orphans if they arrive here.

Ayten Erdoğan, another child psychiatrist from Zonguldak University, told the Daily News that Haitian adults should be supported so that they can look after orphans and teach them their culture. “Adoption should be the last choice,” she said.

An official from the Turkish Red Crescent, who declined to give his name, said the priority should be providing humanitarian aid to Haitians in their own country. He said the Red Crescent sent five members to Haiti and is sending financial aid through a national fundraising campaign in Turkey.

However, Turkey’s consul general to the Dominican Republic, Antonio Horke Almayami, told the Daily News the adoption of Haitian children could be an option because more than 10,000 were left orphaned by the disaster.

/Hurriyet Daily News/

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