THE United Nations has condemned the US’s mass deportations of Haitian migrants who have been camped in squalid conditions under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas after fleeing countries in the Americas.
The US started sending planeloads full of Haitian nationals back to their impoverished homeland over the weekend. The deportations come under Title 42, a policy from the administration of former president Donald Trump, that stopped most arrivals at the southern border on the grounds that migrants could spread Covid-19.
On Tuesday, the UN’s top refugee official Filippo Grandi urged Washington to lift the health-related restrictions, saying they ‘deny most people arriving at the southwest US land border any opportunity to request asylum’.
‘The summary, mass expulsions of individuals currently underway under the Title 42 authority, without screening for protection needs, is inconsistent with international norms and may constitute refoulement,’ Grandi said in a statement.
He also expressed shock at images of the ‘deplorable conditions’ under the concrete highway overpass in Del Rio after a picture spread on social media showing US border patrol agents swinging their reins to threaten migrants and push them back toward the Rio Grande river.
‘We are disturbed by the images that we have seen and by the fact that we have seen all these migrants and refugees and asylum-seekers in transport to Port-au-Prince,’ UN human rights spokesperson Marta Hurtado told a briefing in Geneva.
‘We are seriously concerned by the fact that it appears there have not been any individual assessments of the cases … and that therefore maybe some of these people have not received the protection that they needed,’ she added.
Asked at the United Nations General Assembly in New York for his reaction to the disturbing images, US President Joe Biden said: ‘We will get it under control.’
Biden has come under pressure from his fellow Democratic and Republicans as well to end the deportations.
Democratic US Senate leader Chuck Schumer urged Biden on Tuesday to end ‘these hateful and xenophobic Trump policies that disregard our refugee laws’.
‘I urge President Biden … to immediately put a stop to these expulsions, and to end this Title 42 policy at our southern border,’ Schumer said on the Senate floor.
Republican senator Mitt Romney also described Biden’s border and immigration policies as ‘nothing short of a monumental disaster’.
In recent days, US authorities have removed at least 4,000 people from the camp under a bridge over the Rio Grande along the southern border with Mexico.
According to the US Department of Homeland Security, some 523 Haitians have been deported to their homeland on four flights, with repatriations set to continue on a regular basis.
More than 10,000 mostly Haitian migrants are being held in a squalid camp under a bridge in southern Texas.
On Tuesday, angry scenes erupted at Port-au-Prince Toussaint Louverture international airport in Haiti, after it was revealed that the Haitian government had accepted the deportations.
‘I am angry at the government. We were told in prison that the Haitian government had signed to send us back to Haiti. They are all bad people, these authorities,’ said Yranese Melidor, who arrived on an earlier flight.
A group of men in white T-shirts rushed back toward the plane after they disembarked, with one man attempting to get back on board.
Some other returnees broke into a restricted area of the airport as they attempted to recover passports and personal belongings, as the staff closed the door of the plane before the man could scale the steps back into the cabin.
People were frustrated as they found themselves back where they started weeks ago to seek a better life in the United States.
Hundreds of people tried to cross Mexico on foot this month in caravans but were blocked by the Mexican authorities.
Around 40,000 migrants are also stranded in southern Mexico. Those who crossed the border are now stranded in the city of Tapachula. which rights activists describe as a dead end for people who are waiting to get permission to continue their journey into the US.
The city of 350,000 face overcrowding, inadequate healthcare and the risk of coronavirus infection, medical aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said last week.
- Vice President Kamala Harris has condemned the US treatment of Haitian migrants at the southern border after images circulated of American border patrol agents on horseback using whips on migrants seeking asylum.
‘What I saw depicted, those individuals on horseback treating human beings the way they were was horrible,’ Harris told reporters on Tuesday at an event at the White House.
‘I fully support what is happening right now, which is a thorough investigation into what is going on there. But human beings should never be treated that way, and I’m deeply troubled about it,’ she said.
Earlier in the day, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced it was investigating the treatment of Haitian migrants by Customs and Border Patrol agents after video and images surfaced of the agents on horseback chasing down migrants at the southern border.
DHS said a full probe would help ‘define the appropriate disciplinary actions to be taken’.
‘DHS does not tolerate the abuse of migrants in our custody and we take these allegations very seriously,’ the department said in a statement on Twitter. ‘We are committed to processing migrants in a safe, orderly, and humane way. We can and must do this in a way that ensures the safety and dignity of migrants.’
Harris expressed sympathy for the plight of Haitians, who are held by US authorities in squalid conditions, in the wake of multiple natural disasters and the assassination of their president.
‘I mean, talk about a country that has just experienced so much tragedy,’ Harris said. ‘And we really have to do a lot more to recognise that, as a member of the western hemisphere, we’ve got to support some very basic needs that the people of Haiti have to get back-up and to do what folks naturally want to do, be them from Haiti or in the countries in Central America. People want to stay home. They don’t want to leave home. But they leave when they can not satisfy their basic needs.’
Meanwhile, Harris’s boss, President Joe Biden, is ramping up deportation flights to forcibly expel Haitian migrants in South Texas.
The US Department of Homeland Security said in a statement on Saturday that it plans to secure additional transportation to ‘accelerate the pace and increase the capacity of removal flights’ to Haiti, following a surge of undocumented migrants crossing the southern border that has overwhelmed the authorities.
Authorities are also reportedly planning to fly some of the migrants to other parts of the border that are not experiencing a surge like Del Rio’s.
The new surge of migrants in the southern border represents yet another test of President Joe Biden’s widely-criticised immigration policy.
The Biden administration is implementing a strategy to ramp up deportation flights to forcibly expel migrants in South Texas.
Biden had repeatedly promised on the campaign trail to overturn the harshest aspects of Donald Trump’s anti-immigration agenda.
The scene of dense crowds, sleeping on dirt in scorching heat and with little access to food and clear water, drew condemnations from local officials.
In recent months, the Southwest border has been inundated with a surge of unauthorised crossings not seen in more than two decades. Nearly 200,000 immigrants were arrested at the southwest border in August alone, according to government data.
Republicans have blamed Biden’s mishandling of the border for the growing stream of migrants and asylum seekers.