By Sam Bojarski and Onz Chery

This is a developing story that will be updated as further information becomes available.

haitian flag
A demonstrator holds a Haitian flag during a protest in Port-au-Prince. Photo by Patrice Douge

On March 23-24, tweets from the United States Embassy in Haiti instructing Haitians not to leave their country drew sharp criticism from social media users. 

The Embassy’s tweets included a graphic of President Joe Biden, with a written message in Creole, “Mwen ka di sa byen kle: pa vini.” The embassy translated this in English to say, “I can say quite clearly, don’t come over.”

In a written statement via Whatsapp, Haitian ambassador to the U.S. Bocchit Edmond noted that the tweets echoed a previous statement from Biden.

“Our understanding is that these statements were made at a press conference regarding the issue at the U.S.-Mexico border, rather than in relation to Haiti,” Edmond said, about the Embassy’s tweets. “I’m confident we can expect for more clarification on this matter.” 

The tweets from the U.S. Embassy echoed statements Biden made in an interview with ABC News earlier this month. But after urging people not to leave their countries, Biden went on to speak about proposed reforms to the asylum process.

“What we’re in the process of getting set up, and it’s not going to take a [very] long time, is to be able to apply for asylum in place,” Biden said in his interview. “So don’t leave your town or city or community. We’re going to make sure we have facilitates in those cities and towns run by DHS.”

Embassy tweets stir backlash

Watching Biden’s interview put things into context, Tamarre Torchon, an Atlanta-based educator, said. But that context wasn’t apparent when she first saw the Embassy’s tweets.

“It made it seem as if immigrants, or Haitian immigrants because it was translated in Creole, were not welcome in the United States,” Torchon said. “It was misleading.”

The blunt social media posts come amid a surge in migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. And, as Haiti faces escalating violence and political unrest, federal immigration officials have removed more than 1,000 Haitians from the U.S. this year. 

The White House itself has not made any further statement on Haiti or the tweets, which apparently confused some social media users. The U.S. Embassy referred requests for comment to the State Department.

On March 25, a State Department spokesperson responded on background to an email request, saying that the federal government strongly discourages Haitians from undertaking the dangerous journey to the U.S. 

“While many people may be enduring pain and hardship, the U.S. border is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we strongly advise against making what can be a very dangerous irregular migration journey,” the spokesperson said in an email. “We are working to implement President Biden’s comprehensive approach to promote safe, orderly, and humane migration throughout the region.”

The tweet drew rebuke from people in Haiti and the diaspora. “Of course we want to live in our country,” wrote Jean Fils, a Twitter user based in Port-au-Prince. “We want to build it safely for us and our kids.” 

Responding to the Embassy’s tweet, Long Island-based journalist Edens Desbas said the continued support of the U.S. and United Nations for Moise has exacerbated unrest and insecurity. 

“If they fix the problem in Haiti, Haitian people will stay in Haiti,” Desbas said in a phone interview, about Haiti’s political instability. “If they don’t fix it, Haitian people will come by boat, by plane, by any means they will come here.” 

U.S. officials under both Trump and Biden have pushed for elections this year, and the Biden State Department has maintained that Moise’s term ends in February 2022. 

On March 24, Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro testified in front of the Senate Foreign Relations committee on the state of democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

Despite increasing violence and anti-government protests, Almagro only briefly mentioned Haiti in his seven-page testimony. “At present, we are working with Haiti about their electoral reforms,” he told the Senate. 

Also on March 24, the UN Security Council, presided over by the U.S., released a statement on Haiti, which political observers noted was its first since 2017. 

The statement demanded a timely response by Haitian authorities to address the security situation, which has included gang activity and an increase in kidnappings. It also stressed the urgent need for “overdue” elections and called on all political stakeholders in Haiti to set their differences aside. 

“The Security Council calls for the provision of adequate resources to the Haitian National Police, for the adoption of a sustainable long-term strategy to address the root causes of violence and for concrete measures to address ongoing violence,” the Security Council’s statement read. 

Sam Bojarski can be reached at sam@haitiantimes.com.

Onz Chery can be reached at onz@haitiantimes.com

Sam is a reporter for The Haitian Times and a 2020 Report for America fellow. He has covered Haiti and its diaspora since 2018. His work has also appeared in USA Today, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Haiti Liberte. Sam can be reached at sam@haitiantimes.com or on Twitter @sambojarski.

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