Posts Tagged ‘Haiti’

Biden marks anniversary of earthquake by expelling more Haitian refugees

Flight Eastern 3503, taking Haitian refugees from El Paso to Port au Prince, Jan. 12, 2022

Twelve years ago today, a massive earthquake brought down buildings throughout the Port au Prince area, killing hundreds of thousands of people and displacing many more. As a result, January 12 is a national day of mourning in Haiti.

For the United States it is just another day to expel Haitian refugees – 443 Haitians were expelled today on three flights. 

In September of this year, the Biden administration launched a massive removal campaign against Haitians. It is still going on. Many of those expelled in this time began their journey to seek a liveable life outside of Haiti in the months after that earthquake. 

Between September 19, 2021 and January 12, 2022, the Biden administration has expelled 14,800 Haitian refugees on 137 flights. Most have been removed under Title 42

For context, it is important to be very clear about the following: People who are seeking asylum are not “illegal” immigrants, and under US law, we are obligated to screen their asylum claims, no matter how they enter the country

That said, the right to seek asylum has been illegally limited under Trump-era “Title 42” enforcement measures enacted by an ill-conceived pronouncement from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection in March 2020. Under “Title 42” the CDC claims that migrants can be removed as quickly as possible, with no access to asylum processing outside of a narrow provision under the Convention Against Torture. In reality, CAT screening is widely denied as well. 

For the most part, Haitians cannot simply be expelled at the border under Title 42. They must be flown out. This means detention in congregant settings, ground transportation and flights – all of which make a complete mockery of the “public health” justification for upending asylum processing.

Title 42 is thus an abrogation of international obligations concerning the treatment of refugees, and is, prima facie, a violation of US law. And yet, Biden persists, and regarding Haitians, does so in a way that greatly increases the risks to their health.

Based on numerous reports we know people are put on planes by Immigration and Customs Enforcement without being told they are being sent to Haiti. Adults are often shackled during flights.

On the ground in the United States, immigration authorities treat Haitians horrendously. Haitians are detained, denied attorneys, and mostly denied the chance to make a formal request for asylum. Though the Biden administration has made some exceptions for families, it is not a uniform policy. Nearly 20% of those removed since September are children. 

The International Organization for Migration is supposed to provide $120 to Haitians on arrival for relocation assistance – but this assistance is not consistently granted. Returnees are then processed and shown the door at the airport. People who left Haiti a month, a year, or even a decade ago, find themselves pushed onto the streets of Port au Prince at a time when insecurity is about as bad as anybody can remember. 

We think this is wrong. If you agree, please join us in sending a message to members of Congress, asking them to speak out against removals to Haiti, and to Biden, demanding an end to all Title 42 removals.  

 

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Haiti: Ten years and a week after

Aerial view of Port au Prince

Sunday, January 11 marked the ten-year anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti, centered near Port-au-Prince, that killed 220,000 or more people, and displaced millions. Being a ten year anniversary, there were a number of retrospective political analyses looking at the current crisis through the lens of events in the ten years since the quake. The weakening of the economy, corruption in the deployment of development assistance, the cholera outbreak brought on by UN carelessness in 2010, and additional disasters in the intervening years like Hurricane Matthew, all punctuated by controversial election processes, serve as a backdrop for discussions of the current economic crisis and protests calling on president Jovenel Moïse to step down. What lessons emerged in a week of commemoration? Let’s see….

One lesson, apparently, is the need for new legislation in the U.S. Congress: The Haiti Development, Accountability and Institutional Transparency Initiative Act. I’m not sure the intent of the title, but it comes close to just being the HAITI Act – which is…clever? This act was introduced specifically to mark the anniversary of the earthquake. The bill requires a number of investigations: Investigations into the massacre at La Saline, how to better protect the freedom of the press, how to better take action against corruption through investigating individual governmental and non-governmental leaders, and assessing delivery of U.S. disaster assistance, including investigation of the Caracol industrial park (the only major U.S.-funded project anyone can really point to in the last ten years, and not usually positively). None of this is particularly controversial. I mean who could argue against investigating human rights violations, corruption and assessing the impact of U.S. aid, right? But as the primary mechanism for these investigations in the bill is the U.S. State Department in “consultation” with the non-governmental sector, I am not holding my breath for a substantive re-evaluation of anything, assuming the bill even gets a vote.

Meanwhile, over the last week the major transition in Haiti was the departure of two-thirds of the Senate, and all of the lower house. In the absence of elections, originally scheduled for last October, all of these Parliamentary terms expired. The ten remaining senators cannot form a quorum. As a result, starting Monday, January 13, President Jovenel Moïse began governing through decree. His first act was a commitment to allocate the money saved by not having to pay salaries to members of Parliament to build 10 new schools. From Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald, “The amount, about $16.3 million, would have gone to pay 118 members of the Lower Chamber of Deputies and 19 senators this year. The entire budget of the Parliament is roughly $60 million. Moïse did not say what he plans to do with the rest of the money.” By sending a message that Parliament is unnecessary and/or wasteful, the symbolism of Moïse’s first decree is somewhat alarming – though in the short-term it is likely to play well. Certainly the country needs new schools.

Toward the end of the week Moïse was indicating he would use his decree power to offer a new constitution that would be put to a vote through a popular referendum. Reuters reported, “The president aims to get the new constitution drafted within three months of being started, the source said, and voted on in a referendum by year-end.” Specific proposals are not yet drafted, but the sense is that a new constitution would seek to weaken the authority of the Prime Minister/Parliament in Haiti’s system of dual executive rule. In times past, a presidential, or unitary executive, has been promoted with mixed reception. Hard to say where all of this will go.

With the partisan opposition sidelined (along with parliament), perhaps Moïse will have more space to operate. However, while members of parliament may have been the most vocal opponents, they were hardly the only ones. Certainly among the younger generation of activists represented in some sense by the PetroChallenger movement, most of the political leadership is viewed as corrupt. Which is just to say Moïse may not be the best person to lead constitutional reform, given that the country has periodically erupted into massive protests over the last 18 months in an effort to get rid of him. 

Everybody knows this, of course. It is just worth repeating, as the U.S. government and international organizations continue to act as if the problems in Haiti are institutional design problems, and somehow Moïse’s political survival would be emblematic of successful design. “Moise won his election, after all,” they’ll say, “he should finish his term.” Without a parliament, Moïse can write his own electoral law and offer constitutional reforms. The United States will have Moïse’s back because ultimately the U.S. government only wants enough stability to keep Haiti profitable for those who seek to use it (not the people who live there). The Trump administration made this clear by parading a series of officials through Haiti in December for photo ops in order to demonstrate their commitment to Moïse.

Which brings us back to the elephant in the hemisphere: U.S. policy. One consistent theme over the last ten years -—  really the last 216 years — is the sense of entitlement with which the U.S. government lectures Haitians (really everybody, but I am trying to focus here). It is a bizarre dance whereby the U.S. government intervenes on behalf of a relatively small elite, to keep them in power over the express desire of most Haitians, while keeping the impoverished majority at bay (or at least unrepresented). It was the Obama administration that gifted Martelly and then Moïse to Haiti, after all, in the name of appearances. Then, when things don’t go well, some U.S. policy maker or congressional committee steps up to the mic to critique that same elite for lousy governance. I’m not sure the critique helps so much. What might help? Stepping out of the way so an actual democracy could emerge in Haiti. Then Haitians could hold each other more directly accountable. They would do a much better job I think. They could hardly do worse than the UN/US/Core Group-installed government they’ve been saddled with.

That, at least, is one lesson one might draw from the last ten years.

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Haiti Update: Jean Henry Céant is nominated as new prime minister

Jean Henry Ceant (right) with president Jovenel Moise

On July 14, 2018 Haiti’s prime minister, Jack Guy Lafontant, resigned following widespread demonstrations sparked by fuel prices increases. Lafontant was blamed for the poor execution of the plan’s roll-out – particularly by the business community, which criticized Lafontant for lack of preparation regarding security. Seven people died in the demonstrations. The fuel price increases were suspended – but the pressure behind those increases remain. The International Monetary Fund had required a steep reduction of Haiti’s fuel subsidy program – which led to the price increases. The IMF is still hovering.

Lafontant may well have been the fall guy – as the thousands of people in the street were actually calling for president Jovenel Moise to resign. Lafontant’s resignation seems to have bought Moise some time.

The search for a replacement – for what is going to be a very difficult job – has led to the nomination of Jean Henry Céant. Céant ran for president twice (2010 and 2016) as the head of the Renmen Ayiti (Love Haiti) Party. As of now, Céant has deposited his papers with parliamentary leadership and is awaiting a confirmation vote.

Jean Henry Céant has a controversial background.  In a profile by Kim Ives, Henriot Dorcent, a Haitian political analyst who speaks on the weekly Truth Serum/Haiti on the Airwaves, summarized Céant’s career as follows.

Céant is a consummate opportunist…Under the dictatorship of Gen. Prosper Avril, he worked closely with lawyer Réné Julien, who was Céant’s mentor and Avril’s cousin. But when the political winds shifted, he joined Aristide and the Lavalas, acting as Aristide’s notaire and getting jobs for his wife as Aristide’s private secretary and his brother in CONATEL. Then he jumped into the Martelly camp, where he headed the project to remove people from their homes in downtown Port-au-Prince after the earthquake without compensating them. When Jovenel came to power, there was a scathing report by Haiti’s anti-corruption unit UCREF detailing Jovenel’s money-laundering through his business Agritrans. Who was the first to jump to Jovenel’s defense, saying the excellent report was a fabrication? Jean-Henry Céant!

Because of Céant’s particularly unsavory role in removing people from housing following the earthquake in 2010, his nomination is not a popular choice. Indeed, in the same profile by Kim Ives, Fanmi Lavalas activist Farah Juste explains why Céant’s nomination may be doomed:

First, the people despise him for the way he made money off of uprooting them from their homes in downtown Port-au-Prince under Martelly and [his Prime Minister Laurent] Lamothe. Second, the opposition doesn’t like him and doesn’t trust him. Thirdly, Jovenel would never let him run things, the same way Jovenel completely controlled Lafontant.

Juste speculates that Céant is cannon fodder, and that Moise’s real choice will come next. We’ll have to wait and see. Whoever becomes prime minister, the country will remain squeezed by the International Monetary Fund and U.S. policy makers from outside, and by the business-controlled neo-duvaliast alliance represented by Moise inside the country. One suspects the policy output will be the same no matter who gets the nod, it’s just a matter of finding someone who can sell the program. On that count Céant seems an unlikely candidate.

 

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Climate Change Refugees and Haiti

Environmental changes have always been a driving force for migration. From natural disasters to drought and flooding, changes in the environment impact lives and livelihoods, forcing people to abandon their homes. Over the last 40 years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people forced to migrate as a result of environmental factors. Catastrophic storms are more common, areas suffering from prolonged drought have tripled in the last 40 years, and rising sea levels put coastal communities at risk. By 2050, the International Office of Migration estimates that as many as 250 million people could be displaced as the result of environmental impacts. Unlike those displaced by war or systemic violence, people forcibly displaced as the result of environmental change are rarely recognized as refugees when they cross borders.

Forced migration due to effects of climate change will impact all countries. The United States could see 13 million people internally displaced as a result of rising sea levels by 2045, especially along the east and gulf coasts. The majority of the communities facing permanent inundation are socioeconomically vulnerable communities. Around the globe, drought has already led to displacement and related social tensions as rural communities are forced to move to urban areas. The origins of social conflict and violence are certainly complex, but as climate change forces the movement of people, tensions increase. In Syria, for example, “record drought and massive crop failure beginning in 2006 led to the mass migration of predominately Sunni farmers to Alawi-dominated cities, increasing sectarian tensions and generating conflicts over diminished resources.” Rising food prices in 2007 and 2008, from drought and increased transportation costs, led to protests across the globe, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Guinea, Haiti, Indonesia, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, Peru, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen. The UN estimates 144 million people were driven into poverty by the increase in food prices by 2011. In Niger alone, 5.1 million people became food “insecure.”

In Haiti the intersection of environmental degradation, climate change and forced migration is apparent. At the root of this crisis is the transformation of the rural economy that began under the U.S. occupation from 1915 to 1934. Haiti’s economy was re-engineered as an export platform to feed U.S. interests, from agriculture to banking. By the mid-20th century deforestation, soil erosion, insecure land tenure and population growth was driving an exodus from rural areas to cities. However, in the last 30 years these trends have accelerated. Under pressure to lower tariffs for imports from the United States, Haiti saw the local market for staple crops such as rice collapse. De-forestation accelerated, leading to a situation today where only 3% of Haiti’s tree canopy remains. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people have been internally displaced, forced into urban areas not equipped to handle the influx of people. Today, less than half of Port-au-Prince’s population was born there. Areas like Cite Soleil, with over 400,000 people, are overcrowded and under-resourced. The rapid growth of insecure building and overcrowding is the reason that the 2010 earthquake was so deadly, killing up to 300,000 people.

People migrating to major cities like Port-au-Prince, Gonaives, and Cap-Haitien are in effect moving to coastal areas. Here rising seas, more intense storms, and areas of extreme drought combine to create a recipe for recurrent disasters. Mudslides in 2004 killed tens of thousands of people near Gonaives, as treeless hillsides collapsed on the city. Every new storm brings with it the risk of crop failure, flooding and further soil erosion. Overcrowding has also increased the risks of disease. When UN troops introduced cholera in to Haiti in 2010, the disease spread rapidly, killing 9,400 individuals and infecting hundreds of thousands of people.

Interconnected with the process of internal displacement is outward migration. Nearly one million Haitians live in the Dominican Republic, primarily seeking work on sugar plantations and other agricultural positions. Tensions have resurfaced in recent years leading to mass expulsions of Haitians from the Dominican Republic, whose government denied citizenship to people of Haitian descent. Over the last thirty years, the United States has been the primary destination for Haitians with 650,000 people moving to the U.S. since 1986. However, tensions have mounted within the U.S. over immigration – leading to the suspension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which covered over 50,000 Haitian migrants. Meanwhile, other countries with less restrictive policies are becoming a destination. It is estimated that close to 105,000 Haitians, equivalent to 1% of the population, moved to Chile alone last year.

The confluence of environmental degradation, climate change, and forced migration in Haiti is part of a global process driving people into insecure situations; exacerbating political conflicts and violence. There is no easy solution. Clearly, binding agreements to reduce emissions and move the planet away from a fossil fuel based economy is necessary. Even if this is acheived, the process must be inclusive. Alternative fuels are no panacea if accompanied by the expansion of extractive industries and agricultural practices that further drive forced migration. In the interim, people are already being forced to migrate.

International law is behind the times

The Refugee Convention of 1951 defines a refugee as a person who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country. The Convention does not cover people who are forced to migrate due to environmental reasons when they cross borders. The result is a variety of short-term measures, such as TPS in the United States, that affords very little protection to people whose status can change overnight. Within the United States, at least, there needs to be more effort to craft lasting solutions, that offer people who previously migrated an opportunity to seek permanent residency.

Currently there are efforts to recraft refugee and migrant laws. For example, the United Nations’ International Office of Migration is overseeing the creation of A Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. The draft compact should be completed this year. However, enforcement mechanisms will be limited. In the United States and Europe in particular, migration is re-crafted as a crisis for the receiving country and thus there is resistance to any kind of binding obligations to accept more people. Given the current political environment it is not surprising that Trump administration withdrew the United States from the Compact negotiating process in December last year.

Until there are binding protections afforded to migrants as well as binding agreements to ameliorate the worst impacts of climate change, the world will face increasing migration, accompanied by ongoing political conflict. The current zero-sum, nationalistic orientation of so many, who view migrants as a threat rather than as fellow human beings in need of solidarity, continues to infect any effort for change. We must be better than this.

 

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Inspirational and Influential Women of the World: Myriam Merlet

Part IV of the Inspirational and Influential Women of the World Blog Series

Myriam Merlet was considered one of Haiti’s most prominent leaders and catalysts of the women’s rights movement. Merlet was one of the 300,000 people who perished in the  7.3 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010. As part of our series on inspirational and influential women, we take a look at her work as an advocate for gender equality and the rights of women facing sexual violence.

Myriam Merlet

 

In the 70s, Merlet left Haiti and sought refuge in Canada, where she studied economics, women’s issues, feminist theory, and political sociology. Upon the completion of her studies, Merlet returned to Haiti in the mid 1980s, stating, “While I was abroad I felt the need to find out who I was and where my soul was. I chose to be a Haitian woman. We’re a country in which three-fourths of the people can’t read and don’t eat properly. I’m an integral part of the situation…as a Haitian woman, I must make an effort so that all together we can extricate ourselves from them [the problems].” Upon returning to Haiti, Merlet used her education to lead grassroots advocacy to promote the rights of Haitian women and worked with others to change the culturally accepted norm of gender-based violence.

Merlet was involved in an array of organizations seeking to create and enforce gender equality. In Merlet’s early advocacy years, she founded EnfoFanm, an organization that sought to raise global awareness about the challenges Haitian women face, namely the history and continued use of sexual assault by government soldiers, police, and criminal gangs as means of controlling and oppressing women. EnfoFanm also led a campaign to name streets in Port-au-Prince after famous Haitian women to celebrate and commemorate their work as well as elevate the status of women within Haitian culture. Later in 2006, Merlet took part in creating the Coordination Nationale pour le Plaidoyer des Femmes [National Coordination for Women’s Advocacy] and served as a spokesperson for the organization to fight against sexism within the public sector.

One of Merlet’s greatest accomplishments was leading the efforts to reclassify rape. Prior to 2005, rape was considered a “crime of passion” or an “offense against morals” in Haiti. Rape victims and their families seldom received monetary compensation from the perpetrators, and had no hope for a legal sentencing or justice for the victim. In large part thanks to the work of Merlet and many other women activists, rape has been reclassified as a criminal offense. However, there remains a lack of a precise definition of rape as well as strong judicial system to uphold and enforce the criminalization of rape. As a result, many rapes continue to be overlooked by authorities and there is a stark lack of rape prosecutions, leaving victims vulnerable and susceptible to further gender-based violence.

From 2006 to 2008 Merlet acted as the Chief of Staff to Haiti’s Ministry for Gender and the Rights of Women. There, she continued to promote equal rights and end gender discrimination and violence. Though in a government position, Merlet continued to participate in grassroots advocacy and worked closely with the Minister for the Coordination of Women and Women’s Rights, Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue. Together, Merlet and Lassegue opened the first Haiti Sorority Safe House and V-Day Safe House, both of which act as safe houses for women who are victims of domestic violence. At both of these safe houses women can access medical, legal, and psychological aid as well as gain life skills through the business and computer training courses offered. There continues to be an overwhelming lack of safe houses and aid offered to victims of domestic and gender-based violence. Merlet and Lassegue’s work is carried on by organizations like Fanm Deside, but more needs to be done.

The earthquake served as a reminder of how crucial the work in which Merlet was involved continues to be. A report by Amnesty International stated, “the displacements and living conditions in the displaced persons camps have increased the risk of facing gender-based violence for women and girls, while the destruction of police stations and court houses during the 2010 earthquake further weakened that state’s ability to provided adequate protection.” Women and girls living in the camps with poor lighting at night, unsecure tents, and limited police presence continue to be increasingly susceptible to rape and gender-based violence. Furthermore, the child sex ring run by United Nations Peacekeepers exacerbated the sexual abuse women and girls faced in the camps in Port-au-Prince.

The work Merlet started for the promotion, empowerment, and protection of Haitian women’s rights at the grassroots level remains imperative. The UN’s debacle illustrates why women and local leaders must be involved in the disaster relief process and the need to bring female issues to the forefront of government policy in the hopes of strengthening the justice system to deter rape and gender-based violence as well as provided justice for female victims.

Up Next: Inspirational and Influential Women of the World: Sister Pauline Quinn coming April 20th

 

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