US immigration authorities have radically stepped up deportation flights to Haiti in the weeks before the election, raising concerns over returned migrants’ safety on their return home and the risks of spreading coronavirus in the impoverished Caribbean state.
Twelve flights to Haiti have been recorded so far in October by the watchdog group Witness at the Border, marking a steep increase from previous months when there were on average between one and two flights every four weeks.
Most of the Haitian migrants have been summarily expelled under a 1944 public health law, which lawyers and refugee rights advocates say is being abused by the Trump administration to sidestep its legal obligations to give migrants the opportunity to apply for asylum and other internationally guaranteed rights.
Some of the Haitians deported in recent weeks have been asylum seekers who had been taken from detention centres in what administration critics say is a rush to expel Black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean ahead of the election. The Haitian flights coincide with the forced repatriation of scores of Cameroonian, Congolese and other African asylum – seekers, many of whom were flown out while they had legal cases pending.
“I believe that they are trying to deport as many people as possible prior to the elections,” said Guerline Jozef, the president of the Haitian Bridge Alliance (HBA), an immigrant advocacy and support group. “Once they arrive back in Haiti, they are just left to fend for themselves.”
Jozef said some of the deported migrants had been fleeing the political and gang violence that has become widespread across Haiti in recent years, and would be risking their lives to return to their homes.
The deportation flights also raise the potential for the spread of coronavirus in Haiti. Under government guidelines, illegal immigrants are supposed to be detained in ways that keep them socially distanced and tested before being put on flights. Continue reading