Haiti Protests Mass U.S. Deportation of Migrants to Country in Crisis

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The first Haitians deported from a makeshift camp in Texas landed in their home country Sunday amid sweltering heat, anger and confusion, as Haitian officials beseeched the United States to stop the flights because the country is in crisis and cannot handle thousands of homeless deportees.

“We are here to say welcome, they can come back and stay in Haiti, but they are very agitated,” said the head of Haiti’s national migration office, Jean Negot Bonheur Delva. “They don’t accept the forced return.”

Mr. Bonheur Delva said the authorities expected that 14,000 Haitians would be expelled from the United States over the coming three weeks. Officials said they were preparing to receive three flights of migrants on Sunday, alone, in Port-au-Prince, the capital.

But the next steps were far from clear.

“The Haitian state is not really able to receive these deportees,” Mr. Bonheur Delva said.

Many of the migrants said they saw no future for themselves and their families in their home country.

“I’m not going to stay in Haiti,” said Elène Jean-Baptiste, 28, who traveled with her three-year-old son, Steshanley Sylvain, who was born in Chile and has a Chilean passport, and her husband, Stevenson Sylvain. They want to return to Chile, where they lived before heading to the United States.

Like Ms. Jean-Baptiste, many of the migrants had been living outside Haiti for years, in countries like Panama, Chile, Brazil. Some said they had been told they were going to Florida — then realized they were being taken back to Haiti.

On Sunday, in Port-au-Prince, more than 300 of them milled close together around a small white tent as the sun beat down, waiting to be processed.

The country they were returned to is mired in deep political and humanitarian crisis.

In July, the president, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated. A month later the impoverished southern peninsula was devastated by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake, and the Caribbean nation’s shaky government was ill-equipped to handle the aftermath.

According to a U.N. report released last week, 800,000 people have been affected by the quake. A month after it struck, 650,000 still need emergency humanitarian assistance.

The first of the migrants to be repatriated arrived Sunday afternoon. They looked dazed and tired as they climbed out of the aircraft.

First came parents with babies in their arms and toddlers by the hand. Other men and women followed with little luggage save perhaps for a little food or some personal belongings.

Amid confusion and shouting, the Haitians were led for processing at the makeshift tent, which had been set up by the International Organization for Migration.

Some expressed dismay at finding themselves back in a place they had worked so hard to escape.

“Do we have a country?” asked one woman. “They’ve killed the president. We don’t have a country. Look at the state of this country!”

Haitian officials gave them little cause to think otherwise.

Mr. Bonheur Delva said “ongoing security issues” made the prospect of resettling thousands of new arrivals hard to imagine. Haiti, he said, cannot provide adequate security or food for the returnees.

And then there is the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I am asking for a humanitarian moratorium,” Mr. Bonheur Delva said. “The situation is very difficult.”

After the earthquake in August, which killed more than 2,000 people, the Biden administration paused its deportations to Haiti. But it changed course last week when a rush of Haitian migrants crossed into Texas from the border state of Coahuila, Mexico.

Many had fled Haiti years ago, in the years after the country was devastated by the 2010 earthquake. Most had headed to South America, hoping to find jobs and rebuild a life in countries like Chile and Brazil.

Recently, facing economic turmoil and discrimination in South America and hearing that it was easier to cross into the United States under the Biden administration, they decided to make the trek north, to the U.S. border with Mexico.

In recent days, thousands of Haitian migrants traversed the Rio Grande and huddled under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, further straining the United States’ already overwhelmed migration system — and triggering the decision to begin sending migrants back to Haiti.

The deportations have left Haiti’s new government scrambling.

Typically, Mr. Bonheur Delva said, the country hosts deportees for up to 48 hours in order to process their arrival into the country. It was unclear how officials would be able to do so if the United States follows through on plans to send up to four flights a day.

“Will we have all those logistics?” Mr. Bonheur Delva said. “Will we have enough to feed these people?”

On Sunday, after being processed, the migrants were given Styrofoam containers with a meal of rice and beans. The government planned to give them the equivalent of $100.

After that, said Mr. Bonheur Delva, it will be up to them to find their way home.