A desire to help deportees readjust when they return to Jamaica inspired Carmeta Albarus to launch the Family Unification and Resettlement Initiative (FURI) nine years ago.
But with very few entities or individuals willing to invest in helping these Jamaicans get reacquainted with the land of their birth, the forensic social worker is struggling to keep her dream alive.
“We have been surviving on a shoestring budget. This is not the type of organisation that gets a lot of support because of the type of people who we help,” said Albarus.
“You know there is a stigma that is associated with deportees and the belief that they contribute to increased criminal activity in the country, so people are not that willing to give the type of support that we need,” she told The Sunday Gleaner during an interview at the organisation’s headquarters recently.
Albarus started FURI in the United States (US) in 2002 and launched the Jamaican chapter in 2006 after realising that many of those deported to the island felt lost once they landed.
Her organisation assists the deportees with getting connected with existing relatives, provides counselling, assists them in their job search, and provides them with care packages.
“Many of them were not really criminal deportees, many of them had not really committed vicious acts in the US that caused them to be deported, but how they are treated here, that could probably lead them to criminal behaviour in order to survive; lead them to homelessness; lead them to insanity,” said Albarus.
With no funding to assist with rehabilitation of the hundreds of deportees that her organisation assists each year, Albarus is heavily dependent on friends to make donations to continue her cause.
PARTNERSHIP AND DONATIONS
The organisation, which partnered with the Salvation Army in the early stages, gets donations in kind from Food For The Poor and the Latter Day Saints, as well as parents of individuals they have assisted who periodically send barrels with items for yard sales that they host to secure funds.
The organisation also gets water from Catherine Peak to make beverage, while Juici Patties and Tastee provide patties alternate months so that they can provide a Jamaican meal to the deportees once they reach the island.
As Albarus spoke, the programme director for FURI, Marleen Brown, was busy preparing the meals to take to some deportees, who had just returned to Jamaica on a chartered plane, which comes in on the last Thursday of every month.
“A lot of times when they leave, sometimes their families back home don’t even know that they have left, because they were not able to reach out to them,” said Albarus.
She said FURI generally purchases international and local telephone credit so that these deportees can contact their families oversees to let them know they had been deported, or to inform them that they have landed safely in Jamaica.
Albarus’ dream, when she started FURI in Jamaica some years ago, was to develop a peaceful environment with a large farm where counsellors would be on hand to assist these deportees to better transition to their new environment.
But for now, FURI is still being operated from an office space she rented some years ago for doing her personal work as a mitigation and sentencing consultant when she is in Jamaica.
With that facility now on the market for sale, Albarus is desperately trying to source enough money to purchase the property. The organisation has ramped up its fundraising efforts, and this has seen it now offering classes at the facility to members of the community at a relatively cheap rate. The classes are taught by a volunteer teacher.
“These are little things that we can afford to do while we hold on, until we get the sort of support that we need,” she said.
Given the limited funding opportunities for the rehabilitation and reintegration of deportees, Albarus believes Jamaica should seriously consider the offer that was recently made by the United Kingdom government to contribute £$25 million to help build a prison locally.
“We cannot say don’t build prisons, build schools and hospitals and all of that. We need hospitals, but the bottom line is that the British is saying, listen, I am going to contribute this, because I want to get rid of our prisoners because it cost us, so let us see where it can be mutually beneficial,” she said.
“You have to streamline re-integration programmes here, that starts in the prison, so that when they (deportees) come out, the risk of recidivism is not as high, because they have a skill, they have been able to earn certain things while they are there, so that when they come out they can fit into society,” she argued.
Albarus hopes the US will reconsider making contributions to assisting deportees in Jamaica, which is something she finds the UK government has been doing over the years.
Local data shows that 1,984 Jamaicans were deported in 2014 primarily for overstaying, illegal entry and illegal re-entry. The majority were deported from the US.