UN urges US to stop forced returns to Haiti after latest deportation flight

Haitians may face ‘life threatening risks’ and further displacement if returned to Haiti, UN refugee agency says.

Residents carry their belongings as they flee their homes due to gang violence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Residents of the Lower Delmas area carry their belongings as they flee their homes due to gang violence, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on May 2 [Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters]

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has called on the United States to stop forcibly returning Haitians to their home country, which is facing a months-long surge in gang violence and continued political instability.

In a social media post on Friday, UNHCR urged US President Joe Biden’s administration “to refrain from forcibly returning Haitians who may face life-threatening risks or further displacement” in the Caribbean nation.

The call after the UN agency said “another US deportation flight landed in Haiti” on Thursday.

The US Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on Friday on the flight, including how many people were on board.

It marks the second such deportation flight from the US to Haiti in the past month. On April 18, the US government sent about 50 Haitian nationals back to the country in a move that drew immediate condemnation from rights groups.

“Individuals are removed only if they were found to not have a legal basis to remain in the United States,” a DHS spokesperson told Al Jazeera at that time.

Haiti has experienced widespread gang violence in recent years, particularly after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021 created a power vacuum.

But the already dire situation escalated further in late February, when powerful armed groups attacked prisons, police stations and other state institutions across Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince.

The unrest forced Haiti’s unelected Prime Minister Ariel Henry to announce plans to step down and spurred a shaky political transition, which continues to unfold.

The UN said earlier this week that 362,000 people were internally displaced across Haiti, half of them children.

The International Organization for Migration also reported that about 95,000 people fled the capital of Port-au-Prince, which has been hardest hit by the recent violence, in one month between March 8 and April 9.

This week’s US deportation flight spurred criticism from lawmakers and rights advocates in the country who say the Biden administration is putting peoples’ lives at risk.

Blaine Bookey, legal director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies at the University of California College of the Law, San Francisco, said the deportations were “a disgrace”.

“They protect no one. They ‘deter’ no one. They violate our laws and treaty obligations, legal guidance from the UN Refugee Agency, and basic principles of humanity. They must end,” Bookey said in a statement on Friday.

Sunil Varghese, policy director at the International Refugee Assistance Project, also said the deportation flights put Haitians “back into grave danger”. “It is unconscionable to forcibly return people back to Haiti at this time,” Varghese said.

Dick Durbin, a Democratic Party senator from Illinois, said in a social media post that he told the Biden administration that it “cannot risk the safety of Haitians in the US by deporting them to dangerous conditions”.

He urged Washington to halt the deportation flights, as well as redesignate Haiti for what is known as temporary protected status (TPS).

The US government grants TPS to nationals of countries where temporary conditions make it too dangerous to return, including cases of armed conflict or environmental disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes.

Recipients can remain in the US without fear of deportation and work in the country. Haiti’s TPS designation is set to expire in early August.

Source: Al Jazeera