Amnesty urges end to ‘racist’ treatment of Haitian asylum seekers

Haitians face ‘racism, xenophobia, systemic violence’ in search for protection across Americas, rights group says.

Haitian asylum seekers at a camp in Mexico City
Haitian asylum seekers wait outside their tents at Mexico City's Giordano Bruno park in April 2023 for a permit that would allow them to continue their journey to the US border [File: Henry Romero/Reuters]

Amnesty International has urged countries across the Americas to stop their “racist” treatment of Haitian asylum seekers, who the rights group says face anti-Black discrimination in their search for protection.

In a statement on World Refugee Day on Tuesday, Amnesty said a deteriorating situation in Haiti – which is grappling with a surge in gang violence and political instability – has forced thousands to flee their homes in recent years.

“Instead of receiving solidarity from other countries in the Americas, Haitians have suffered acts of racism, xenophobia, and systematic violence in their search for protection,” it said.

The group said it had documented cases of assault, arbitrary detention, torture, mass deportation and discrimination against Haitian asylum seekers in Peru, Chile, the United States, Mexico and the neighbouring Dominican Republic, among other countries.

Haitians also lack access to basic services and legal protection, Amnesty reported.

“Racist migration and asylum policies only exacerbate the harm already inflicted on people forced to endure and flee the humanitarian and human rights crises in Haiti,” Erika Guevara-Rosas, the organisation’s Americas director, said in the statement.

Gang violence has been on the rise across Haiti for years, and the problem worsened after the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise, which created a power vacuum.

The country’s virtually non-existent government system has made stemming attacks even more difficult, and Haiti’s de facto leader, Prime Minister Ariel Henry, has faced a crisis of legitimacy as the political process remains in deadlock.

The violence has impeded access to healthcare facilities, forced the closure of schools and clinics, and worsened already dire food shortages by cutting residents of gang-controlled areas off from critical supplies.

Most recently, a wave of vigilante justice has led to the killings of dozens of suspected gang members but raises concerns about spiralling violence.

Against that backdrop, thousands of Haitian asylum seekers have fled the Caribbean nation while others who have lived in countries in the Americas for years also have embarked on perilous journeys north in hopes of getting protection in the US.

In its 2022 Global Trends report, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said 42 percent of new asylum applications last year were made by citizens of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Haitian applications increased by 10 percent to 73,500 compared with 2021 figures.

But Haitians have faced a range of challenges in recent months, including deportations from the Dominican Republic and stricter restrictions at the US-Mexico border as US President Joe Biden has sought to deter asylum seekers.

A US policy that forces migrants and refugees at the border to seek immigration appointments through a mobile app called CBP One, for example, places Haitians at greater risk because they face discrimination and violence in dangerous Mexican border cities, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.

“They have also experienced difficulties using the CBP One app’s facial recognition technology that struggles with recognizing Black faces and raises serious privacy, discrimination, and surveillance concerns,” the group said.

Guevara-Rosas called on countries to meet their obligations under international human rights law, including fairly assessing Haitian asylum seekers’ claims for protection and refrain from sending them back to Haiti.

UNHCR also urged a stop to forced returns to the “extremely fragile” nation in November, saying such incidents may constitute violations of international law.

“Instead of further endangering them, states must protect and uphold the dignity and rights of Haitian migrants and asylum seekers,” Guevara-Rosas said on Tuesday.

“Regional solidarity and the reformation of migration policies with an anti-racist perspective are essential to addressing the grave dangers and injustices they face.”

Source: Al Jazeera