Four United Nations agencies on Thursday called on countries to refrain from expelling Haitian migrants without properly assessing whether they are eligible to apply for protection as refugees, describing the situation on the ground in Haiti as “dire” and “not conducive to forced returns.”
The call comes as the Biden administration has deported Haitian migrants using a Trump-era health law known as Title 42, which denies certain migrants the opportunity to apply for asylum.
In a joint statement, the UN Refugee Agency, the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the UN Human Rights Office underscored the need to uphold the human rights of Haitians who have fled their country, and urged states to offer protection or legal stay arrangements to address the “profound vulnerabilities” of such migrants.
The agencies encouraged the nations of North and South America in particular to adopt a “comprehensive regional approach” that ensures the protection of Haitians moving throughout the Western Hemisphere. They noted that some Haitian nationals may be entitled to seek international refugee protection.
“Haitians on the move in the Americas comprise people with different protection needs, profiles and motivations,” the agencies said in the joint statement.
“Some may have well-founded grounds to request international refugee protection. Others may have other protection needs,” the agencies said.
The agencies noted that the social, economic, humanitarian and political conditions in Haiti, as well as a series of natural catastrophes, have prompted migration from the country during the past decade.
The situation in Haiti is also “bound to worsen” due to an earthquake last month, making the Caribbean nation unfit for them to return, the agencies added.
“Conditions in Haiti continue to be dire, and not conducive to forced returns,” they said in the statement.
In recent weeks, immigration advocates and progressive Democratic lawmakers have slammed the Biden administration for its response to an increase in Haitian migrants attempting to enter the U.S.
The administration’s deportation of Haitian migrants led the U.S. special envoy for Haiti, Daniel Foote, to resign last week. In his resignation letter, Foote condemned the deportations as inhumane and noted the adverse conditions in Haiti.
“The people of Haiti, mired in poverty, hostage to the terror, kidnappings, robberies and massacres of armed gangs and suffering under a corrupt government with gang alliances, simply cannot support the forced infusion of thousands of returned migrants lacking food, shelter, and money without additional, avoidable human tragedy,” Foote said in the letter.
U.S. authorities have encountered nearly 30,000 migrants in Del Rio, Texas since Sept. 9, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said at the White House last week.
As of Friday, the Biden administration completely cleared a makeshift border camp under a bridge in Del Rio where up to 15,000 migrants, predominantly Haitians, had gathered at one point.
The administration has raced to swiftly remove many of the migrants from the U.S. More than 4,600 Haitian migrants have been sent back to Haiti on 43 repatriation flights since Sept. 19, a DHS spokesperson told CNN Wednesday.
He then said this number could increase as 5,000 other migrants are having their cases processed by DHS to determine if they should be placed in immigration removal proceedings or expelled through Title 42.
Mayorkas has defended the Biden administration’s use of Title 42, telling reporters last week at the White House that it is a “public health need” and “not an immigration policy.”
The policy was introduced at the outset of the pandemic, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decided in August that Title 42 would remain in place until it determines that there is no longer a danger of Covid-19 being brought across the border into the U.S.
The administration has also faced sharp criticism for numerous photos and video depicting Border Patrol agents on horseback grabbing Haitian migrants trying to enter the U.S. It led the Biden administration to halt agents’ use of horses in Del Rio last week, and prompted the DHS to launch an investigation into the events that were captured in them.
Mayorkas said the agents involved have been assigned to administrative duties and are not interacting with migrants during the investigation.