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Haiti protests against mass deportation of migrants by the United States to a country in crisis

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – The first Haitians evicted from a makeshift camp in Texas landed in their home country on Sunday amid sweltering heat, anger and confusion, as Haitian authorities pleaded with United States to stop thefts because the country is in crisis and cannot handle thousands of deported homeless people.

“We are here to welcome you, they can come back and stay in Haiti – but they are very agitated,” said the head of Haiti’s national migration office, Jean Negot Bonheur Delva. “They do not accept the forced return.

Bonheur Delva said authorities expected about 14,000 Haitians to be deported from the United States over the next three weeks.

An encampment of about this size has formed in the border town of Del Rio in Texas in recent days as Haitians and other migrants crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico. The Biden administration has said it is moving quickly to expel them under a Trump-era pandemic order.

On Sunday alone, Haitian authorities were preparing for the arrival of three migrant flights in Port-au-Prince, the capital. After that, they plan six flights a day for three weeks, split between Port-au-Prince and the coastal city of Cap Haitien.

Beyond that, little was certain.

“The Haitian state is not really able to accommodate these deportees,” said Bonheur Delva.

Haiti’s call for a stay of deportations seemed likely to increase pressure on the Biden administration, which is struggling with the highest level of border crossings in decades.

President Biden, who has pledged a more humanitarian approach to immigration than his predecessor, has taken strict measures to stop the influx, and the administration said over the weekend that Haitian deportations are in line with that policy. ‘application.

But the migrants are being sent back to a country still reeling from a series of overlapping crises, including the assassination of its president in July and an earthquake in August. Only once since 2014 has the United States deported more than 1,000 people to the country.

As the sun set in Port-au-Prince on Sunday, more than 300 of the newly repatriated migrants gathered around a white tent, looking dazed and exhausted as they waited to be treated – and disheartened to find themselves in Square 1. Some held babies while toddlers ran and played. Some of the children were crying.

Many said their only hope was to follow the long and arduous road of migration again.

“I’m not going to stay in Haiti,” said Elène Jean-Baptiste, 28, who traveled with her 3-year-old son, Steshanley Sylvain, born in Chile and holder of a Chilean passport, and her husband, Stevenson Sylvain. .

Like Ms. Jean-Baptiste, many had fled Haiti years ago, in the years following the devastation of the country by a previous earthquake, in 2010. Most had headed for South America. , hoping to find a job and rebuild a life in countries like Chile and Brazil.

Recently, facing economic turmoil and discrimination in South America, and learning that it might be easier to cross into the United States under the Biden administration, they decided to take the trip north.

From Mexico, they crossed the Rio Grande to the United States, only to find themselves detained and returned to a country plunged into a deep political and humanitarian crisis.

In July, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated, sparking a battle for power. A month later, the impoverished southern peninsula was devastated by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake and the faltering Caribbean nation government was ill-equipped to deal with the aftermath.

According to a United Nations report released last week, 800,000 people were affected by the earthquake. One month after the shock, 650,000 still need urgent humanitarian aid.

Many migrants who got off the plane on Sunday have little to turn to.

Claire Bazille left home in 2015 and had a job cleaning office buildings in Santiago, the capital of Chile. It was not the dream life she had left Haiti to find, but she made it through, even sending money to her mother every month.

When Ms Bazille learned that it was possible to enter the United States under the Biden administration, she left everything behind and headed north, joining other Haitians along the way.

On Sunday she was put on a plane and returned to where it all started for her.

Only now, the house of Ms. Bazille’s family in Les Cayes had been destroyed in the earthquake. Her mother and six siblings live on the streets, she said, and she is alone with a small child, a backpack with all their things and no prospect of work.

“I don’t know how I’m going to survive,” said Ms. Bazille, 35. “It was the worst decision I could have made. This is where I ended up. This is not where I was going. “

At least a dozen migrants said they felt cheated by the United States. They said they were told by uniformed officials that the flight they were boarding was to Florida. When they learned otherwise, some protested but were placed on board handcuffed, they said.

“I didn’t want to come back,” said Kendy Louis, 34, who was living in Chile but decided to travel to the United States when construction ended. He was traveling with his wife and 2-year-old son and was among those who were handcuffed during the flight, he said.

The director of migration and integration at the Haitian Migration Office, Amélie Dormévil, said several of the returnees told her they were handcuffed at the wrists, ankles and waist during the flight.

After the first plane carrying the deportees landed, the first to get off were parents with babies in their arms and toddlers in their hands. Other men and women followed with little baggage, except perhaps for a little food or a few personal effects.

Amidst the confusion and screaming, the Haitians were taken for treatment to the makeshift tent, which had been set up by the International Organization for Migration.

Some expressed dismay at finding themselves in a place they had worked so hard to escape – and with so few resources to receive them.

“Do we have a country? asked a woman. “They killed the president. We don’t have a country. Look at the state of this country!

Haitian officials have given them little reason to believe otherwise.

Bonheur Delva said “ongoing security concerns” made the prospect of resettling thousands of new arrivals hard to imagine. Haiti, he said, cannot provide adequate food or security for returnees.

And then there is the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I am calling for a humanitarian moratorium,” Bonheur Delva said. “The situation is very difficult.

After the August earthquake, which claimed more than 2,000 lives, the Biden administration suspended deportations to Haiti. But that changed course last week when the rush of Haitian migrants entered Texas from the border state of Coahuila, Mexico, huddling under a bridge in Del Rio and further straining the states’ overwhelmed migration system. -United.

The deportations have left Haiti’s new government in trouble.

“Will we have all this logistics? Said Mr. Bonheur Delva. “Will we have enough to feed these people?”

On Sunday, after being treated, the migrants were given styrofoam containers with a meal of rice and beans. The government planned to give them the equivalent of $ 100.

After that, said Bonheur Delva, it will be up to them to find their own way.

Natalie Kitroeff contributed reporting from Mexico City.


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