It hurt when I recently read an op-ed by Author and adventurer James S. Gardner. He was commenting on refugees from the Haitian earthquake. He said, “Make no mistake about it, they are coming.”
My heart sunk as I read that because I know the repercussions of refugees coming to our shores. I lived through it as a health care provider in the late 70s during the Mariel Boat Landing in south east Florida. I worked at Mt. Sinai Medical Center on South Miami Beach as an emergency room respiratory therapist. I was in regular contact with these “boat people,” as they were then called. We were their first contact after the EMTs, police or Coast Guard brought them to the hospital. We cared for their physical wounds, tried to comfort their emotional terror and watched helplessly as some of them died on our gurneys before we could even find out why they were dying. I held many hands back then and listened to their pleading in a language I couldn’t understand. But our eyes and clutching hands held a communication that can’t be expressed in words. The most heartbreaking complaint I made to my superiors was that we didn’t have anyone on our healthcare team that spoke the languages of the “boat people,” and they were afraid, sick and dying with no one who understood them.
There were Cubans and Haitian refugees. I heard recently that during the 70’s two thirds of the “boat people” drowned while trying to flee to freedom. Dade County processed 200,000 boat people back then. (That could possibly mean that 400,000 people drowned in the Mariel Boat event.) We pleaded with Washington to help us. Our health care and our educational system were bulging, splitting at the seams. Then President, Jimmy Carter continuously told us it was “a local problem.” We were unable to handle the sudden influx of people and the tragedy worsened.
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Op-ed: Haitian Earthquake Refugees
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