SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – More than 2,000 Haitians who fled to the Dominican Republic after a devastating earthquake are returning home under a new program that offers migrants cash as an incentive, officials said Friday.
It is the first time Dominican officials, with help from the International Organization for Migration, are transporting willing migrants back to Haiti as part of an organized effort.
Under the program, each family member is paid $50 to return to Haiti. Additional payments mean each family receives a minimum of $250.
According to United Nations' statistics, Haiti's GDP per capita was $949 a year before last year's earthquake and now is less, meaning a few hundred dollars can be a powerful motivation to move.
"It is a population that has been displaced twice," International Organization for Migration spokesman Jean-Philippe Antolin told The Associated Press, explaining that most of the migrants who crossed the border into the Dominican Republic were already internal migrants in Haiti.
The program is financed by the nonprofit organization and other agencies, including the U.S. State Department, he said.
It is unclear how much money is available for the program, which began several weeks ago.
Officials have distributed at least $65,000, with nearly 1,300 Haitians transported back to their native country, Antolin said. An additional 832 Haitians have signed up for the porgram.
An estimated 200,000 Haitians fled to the Dominican Republic after the earthquake, with some 50,000 migrants alone settling in the city of Santiago just north of the Santo Domingo, the Dominican capital, Antolin said.
This week, officials escorted 149 Haitians from Santiago to Ouanaminthe in northern Haiti, where a religious group is helping them reintegrate into communities.