Gabrielle Apollon ’15 testifies about Haitian migrants at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Gabrielle Apollon '15

Gabrielle Apollon '15 appeared in front of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on October 31 to give testimony about the human rights violations of Haitian migrants to Brazil.

Apollon, the recipient of a Ford fellowship, spent 10 weeks working at Conectas Human Rights in Sao Paolo last summer. Her testimony at IACHR (watch the video) is based on 25 hours of interviews that she conducted with Haitian migrants in Brasileia, a town near the Bolivian border. At the shelter she visited, Apollon, a Canadian of Haitian descent, found that migrants were eager to speak with her since, unlike shelter employees, she spoke Creole and French and thus could communicate with them.

“I had been worried that some might not want to speak to me about the situation due to the serious nature of [their exploitation], but I was inundated with people who wanted to share their stories,” said Apollon in her testimony.

Apollon described the difficult journeys that Haitian migrants undertook to reach Brazil, focusing on the exploitation that met them from start to end. While Brazil offers humanitarian visas for Haitians, migrants typically paid racketeers $3,000 to $5,000 to travel to Brazil because they were unaware of or misinformed about visa requirements. Along the route the migrants were frequently arrested and extorted by state authorities in the countries they traveled through. And once they arrived in Brasileia they lived in overcrowded and unsanitary shelter conditions, unable to return home unless family or friends in Haiti sent them money.

“Many told me, ‘We’ve already spoken out about what’s happening in our journeys here. We’ve told journalists, we’ve told government leaders, but every day we hear that our brothers and sisters who come after us are going through the same things. We hope that it’ll be different with you, that something might change,’” said Apollon.

This experience has deepened Apollon’s interest in migration and immigrant rights. “I always knew I wanted to do work related to Haiti,” said Apollon, “and now I have expanded my horizons as far as what that might entail.”

Posted on November 15, 2013