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Haitian photographer Cristina Baussan explores migration in the Caribbean

For years now the results of the environmental crisis has led to the evacuation of cities and people losing their homes. Islands and coasts see their future most compromised, inciting migration to “safer” regions. These instances of dangerous climate change and migration in the Caribbean are captured by extraordinary Haitian photographer Cristina Baussan.

Indeed, from heatwaves to flash floods, the Caribbean islands continue to be among the regions most threatened by climate change. Climate refugees, often not regarded as legal refugees despite their bearing of consequences mostly inflicted by richer countries in which they would seek refuge, need shelter.

Climate change and migration in the Caribbean

In February of this year, Biden approved an executive order directed towards “Rebuilding and Enhancing Programs to Resettle Refugees and Planning for the Impact of Climate Change on Migration.”

After years of Trump dismantling the US’s response to the climate crisis, this is an immense step in the right direction. Not only a directory for the government, the order is also an invitation for the world to pay more attention to how climate change is affecting our planet and its people.

While many coastal regions are endangered, geographical as well as economic and governmental features make places like the Caribbean most susceptible to the effects of climate change, and then, forced migration.

From Haiti’s location and deforestation levels, to its high poverty rates and unstable government, the country is only hit harder by further natural disasters.

While hurricanes and storms have become more regular and aggressive, rises in sea level and rates of coastal floods are an ongoing threat as well. For countries like Barbados that largely relies on its tourism sector or the Dominican Republic already in constant threat of natural disasters, the economic losses are unimaginable.

In a recent analysis, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) explained that “Extreme weather displaces nearly three times more people than conflict and nearly nine times more than fear of persecution.”

But the biggest of problems occurs when those issues come together.

Haitian photographer Cristina Baussan

Cristina Baussan is a documentary photographer and writer, now based in NYC. With Haitian, Salvadorian, French, and American origins, her work sheds light on the power of human connection in the face of hardship.

Putting environmental crisis in conversation with humanity and social injustices, Baussan’s art showcases all facets of life.

In 2020, The New York Times shared Baussan’s powerful exhibition “When Climate Change and Xenophobia Collide,” explaining just that.

caribbean climate change
Neighbors gather near their dismantled homes in Marsh Harbour, Abaco. In the first three months after the storm, the government deported more than a thousand Haitians, including at least twenty children. Abaco, The Bahamas. © Cristina Baussan 2019, All Rights Reserved.

The black and white collection of photographs in the Bahamas reflects urgency coupled with powerlessness. Placing emphasis on the difficult aftermath of natural disasters such as Hurricanes Isaias and Dorian, the Haitian photographer poses the questions we are often too oblivious or scared to ask.

Why does it so happen that disasters such as those occur in places that have the least to begin with?

“When Winters Had Their Seasons”

Along with extreme poverty and gang violence, climate change is creating a new wave of young Salvadoran migrants searching for safer and more prosperous lives away from home. This project explores youth’s decision to migrate to the United States or to find alternative work in their rural hometowns of El Salvador.

Cristina Baussan’s Solo Exhibition, Columbia University, 2019

It is somewhat heart-wrenching to see that what Baussan photographed in 2019 is still so topical today. “When Winters Had Their Seasons.”

But indeed, as we continue to lose our sense of the seasons we may be used to as a result of the climate crisis, Cristina Baussan’s work remains of extreme relevance through the years.

In spite of pain and desolation, it isn’t only sorrow we see in this collection. There’s color, contemplation, and hope. There’s a sense of life and among and of new beginnings. Which is something our world should be ready to offer more acceptingly to those in peril who already have so much to leave behind them.

haitian photographer cristina baussan
Melvin Elias (middle), 16, waits for a friend before going fishing near his home in La Barra de Santiago, El Salvador. La Barra de Santiago, Ahuachapán, El Salvador. January 2019. © Cristina Baussan 2019, All Rights Reserved.

And indeed, Baussan does a remarkable job at capturing the richness of the land and culture of those endangered regions. Because of it, her photographs become so poignant when we understand that Caribbean people are being forced into migration in the face of the climate crisis.

The Haitian photographer channels more imagery in her writing

Tying her writing to her photography, Cristina Baussan’s work gains even more in meaning.

Paired together her photography and writing highlight the humanity that lies behind what we read in the news or hear about. She embraces the souls that hide behind the numbers, and the hope that lives among them.

Looking at the issue through a lens as powerful as hers may make it feel untouchable. But it is. Her artwork is a vector for raising awareness about climate change repercussions we don’t talk about often enough. It is a love letter to the places and people we need to fight for.

Following her invitation to see and feel what is going on in more remote places of our planet, there is an invitation to help. And long overdue, it begins and continues today, with little things we can all do.

Resources for help

Follow Cristina Baussan’s work for images and words that inspire life.