Haitians Being Returned to Country in Chaos

Human Rights Watch

The United States and all other countries should stop expelling or deporting people to Haiti, where they face a high risk of violence and have no effective access to protection or justice, Human Rights Watch said today. Haiti is suffering alarming levels of killings and kidnappings by gangs that control strategic areas of the country, in a situation compounded by longstanding impunity for human rights abuses and crime amid a humanitarian crisis.

“It is unconscionable that any government would send people to Haiti while it experiences such a deterioration in security and a heightened risk to everyone’s life and physical integrity,” said César Muñoz, senior Americas researcher at Human Rights Watch. “No government should return people to Haiti. And the United States, which accounts for the vast majority of returns, should end the unnecessary and illegitimate use of a public health regulation for abusive expulsions of Haitians.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 49 people during a visit to Haiti in December 2021. They included 9 Haitians expelled from the US and the Dominican Republic; representatives of United Nations agencies; civil society members; and Haitian justice and executive branch officials. The officials included Prime Minister Ariel Henry, Justice Minister Berto Dorcé, Interior Minister Liszt Quitel, Ombudsperson Renan Hédouville, and Inspector General of Police Fritz Saint Fort. Human Rights Watch interviewed an additional 16 people remotely before and after the visit, and reviewed data and reports by the UN, civil society, and media.

Returns to Haiti are life-threatening now, and will continue to be so, until security conditions in Haiti improve, Human Rights Watch said. Haiti is experiencing a dire security situation, including loss of government control over strategic areas to the hands of dangerous armed gangs, widely believed to be financed by politicians and to have police officers on their payroll. Violence has worsened an already severe humanitarian crisis.

Haiti is also enduring a deep political and constitutional crisis. Prime Minister Henry, the putative head of government, was not elected but rather appointed by former President Jovenel Moïse, two days before Moïse’s assassination on July 7, 2021. The prime minister governs by decree, without a constitutional mandate. Parliament has ceased to function, and the justice system can barely operate in a context of security and institutional breakdowns.

Impunity for crimes is the norm. “In Haiti, threatened judges have two options: to leave the country or continue with the investigation and have themselves killed for it,” a member of the Superior Council of Justice, the body that manages the justice system, told Human Rights Watch.

Given the security conditions in Haiti, civil society groups and organizations assisting returnees expressed concern that people expelled or deported to Haiti are at risk of kidnapping and extortion by criminal gangs, which may believe returnees have money for travel or relatives abroad who can pay ransoms. However, there is currently no system in place to track and support returnees.

From January 1, 2021 through February 26, 2022, 25,765 people were expelled or deported to Haiti, data collected by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) show. Of those, the US returned 79 percent – 20,309 people – while The Bahamas, Cuba, Turks and Caicos Islands, Mexico, and other countries returned the rest.

From September 19, 2021 – when the IOM started collecting detailed data – through February 14, 2022, the US returned about 2,300 children born abroad to Haitian parents, the majority of them in Chile.

Most people returned by the US had left Haiti years before, escaping an already difficult security and economic situation, and had lived in Chile or Brazil before traveling to the US. Some suffered violence, including sexual abuse, on their way to the US.

The United States should immediately stop its inappropriate use of Title 42, a section of US health law, to expel people to Haiti and elsewhere, Human Rights Watch said. IOM data show that, from September 19 through the end of February, 6 percent of those the US repatriated to Haiti were deported and the rest were expelled under Title 42, which the administration of former President Donald Trump deployed during the Covid-19 pandemic to deny families, children, and adults arriving at the southern border their right to seek asylum in the United States, and which the administration of President Joe Biden has continued to use. On March 11, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) terminated its authorization of Title 42 expulsion authority with respect to unaccompanied children.

The US has typically not given people returned to Haiti under Title 42 an opportunity to express their fears of persecution or violence or to apply for asylum, in violation of international law.

On March 4, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that “from a public-health perspective, based on the limited record before us, it’s far from clear that the CDC’s order serves any purpose,” in reference to the March 2020 order from the CDC to apply Title 42.

In a decision that could go into effect in April, the court ordered the Biden administration to stop using Title 42 to summarily expel families with children to countries where they would face persecution or torture.

UN agencies and the Biwo Nasyonal Migrasyon (Haitian National Office of Migration) provide some assistance to returnees at the airport, including cash assistance, food, and hygiene products, but they do not monitor their situation after they drop them off at bus stations or hotels, UN officials and Haitian authorities told Human Rights Watch.

A survey conducted by IOM staff among 383 returnees who could be reached by phone in January and February showed that 69 percent of them did not feel safe in Haiti. Of those interviewed, 84 percent wanted to leave the country again because of the economic and security crisis.

In addition to stopping repatriations, foreign governments should work with Haitian authorities, UN agencies, and donors to create a comprehensive returnee reintegration program for those who have already been returned, Human Rights Watch said. The program should address the returnees’ specific needs, including work, security, family reunification, services for survivors of gender-based violence, including access to emergency contraception, and support for children on the basis of best-interest assessments. An IOM representative told Human Rights Watch on March 3 that they have designed a reintegration program and are seeking donor support to put it into operation.

“Haitians and their children, many born abroad, are being returned to a country in chaos,” Muñoz said. “Foreign governments should stop all repatriations and should help set up a reintegration program, in collaboration with Haitian authorities, to monitor the situation of those already returned, help them access basic services, provide assistance to their children, and step in if their lives are at risk.”

Public Release. More on this here.