By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
AN international watchdog has expressed concern with the government’s repatriation of Haitian migrants to their home country, as the political situation in Haiti remains “fragile”.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), through its Haiti Chief of Mission Giuseppe Loprete, expressed reservations about the Minnis administration’s continued repatriation of “traumatised vulnerable migrants”.
The IOM, in a statement, said it will continue to track those repatriations in “direct coordination” with IOM Bahamas and the Haitian National Office of Migration (ONM) to “ensure the gathering of accurate information on the returnees and the provision of adequate support” to those persons.
The IOM’s report came a day after 113 convicted Haitian migrants—97 men, 13 women and three minors — were repatriated to Port-au-Price by a Bahamasair flight under a deportation order.
Last Wednesday, 87 undocumented Haitian migrants, inclusive of 26 women, 59 men and two minors, were turned over to the Department of Immigration at Mathew Town, Inagua after being apprehended by OPBAT officials patrolling waters near the southeast end of the island.
In its statement, the IOM said it has monitored the deportation of some 340 Haitian migrants from the Bahamas. Of that number, 153 were interviewed by ONM upon their arrival at the Port-au-Prince and Cap-Hatien airports.
The IOM said the returnees mostly reported being apprehended on the streets, while at work, or while “in their homes during raids usually carried out in the middle of the night by immigration officials”. The repatriated migrants also said they remained in detention for 10 to 30 days, the IOM said.
Additionally, the IOM said most of the returnees said they lived on Abaco and were evacuees from Hurricane Dorian.
The IOM quoted one migrant as saying: “We lost everything in the Bahamas because of Dorian. And now they bring us back to Haiti. What will we do?”
The IOM said it, as well as the ONM, received some 105 Haitian migrants that were deported from the Bahamas on November 5. IOM said it supported the returnees with “post-arrival assistance” by providing onward transportation fees and hygiene kits, and will soon provide them with medical and psychological support.
However, Mr Loprete said: “We are concerned about these repatriations, as the situation in Haiti remains fragile.”
The IOM’s statement added: “Repatriations of Haitian migrants are expected to continue as Bahamian authorities have communicated their intention to return all irregular migrants from their territory. IOM Haiti will continue to track these returns in direct coordination with IOM Bahamas and ONM to ensure the gathering of accurate information on the returnees and the provision of adequate support to traumatised vulnerable migrants.”
Of late, various local and international entities have denounced the repatriation of Haitian migrants from the Bahamas, citing the weeks of unrest, violent protests and political turmoil that have plagued Haiti.
Last month, Haitian Chargé d’Affaires Dorval Darlier said the Minnis administration should consider suspending the repatriation of migrants “because of the political situation” in Haiti.
“That’s the reason I think this is not the best time right now,” Mr Darlier told The Nassau Guardian in early October.
“What I’m going to do is I’m going to sit with the government to see the best they can assist Haiti in that way…If you are illegal, I cannot tell the Bahamian immigration department [not to] do their job,” Mr Darlier said, noting that he could not force the government to stop its repatriations.
“I’m not going to tell them what to do,” he said. “No, this is not my country. I am not going to force them. I’m not going to tell them what to do. It’s up to the government.”
Additionally, last month, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called on this country to halt deportations of Haitians and other undocumented migrants in the wake of Hurricane Dorian. It insisted there had been no individual assessments and due process guarantees – entitlements under international law.
In response, however, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said deportations had been carried out consistent with international standards, specifically human rights norms.
Meanwhile, Minister of Immigration Elsworth Johnson and Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis both told The Tribune that undocumented migrants affected by the storm will have no special protection from deportation.
Local advocacy group Rights Bahamas, however, has criticised the government’s “savage and cold-hearted” position on displaced Hurricane Dorian migrant victims, and has pledged to alert international human rights groups to the policy.