PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The first Haitians deported from a makeshift camp in Texas landed in their homelands on Sunday amid blistering heat, anger and confusion as Haitian officials pleaded with the United States to halt flights because the country is in crisis and cannot cope with thousands of homeless deportees.
“We are here to welcome them, they can come back and stay in Haiti – but they are very agitated,” said the head of Haiti’s national migration agency, Jean Negot Bonheur Delva. “They don’t accept the forced return.”
Mr Bonheur Delva said authorities expect about 14,000 Haitians to be expelled from the United States in the next three weeks.
A camp of about that size has formed in the Texas border town of Del Rio in recent days as Haitians and other migrants from Mexico crossed the Rio Grande. The Biden administration has said it is moving quickly to deport them under a Trump-era pandemic order.
On Sunday alone, officials in Haiti prepared for the arrival of three migrant flights in Port-au-Prince, the capital. After that, they expect six flights a day for three weeks, divided between Port-au-Prince and the coastal town of Cap Haitien.
Other than that, little was certain.
“The Haitian state is not really able to accommodate these deportees,” said Bonheur Delva.
Haitian’s call for the suspension of the deportations appeared to increase pressure on the Biden government, which is struggling with the highest number of border crossings in decades.
President Biden, who promised a more humanitarian approach to immigration than his predecessor, has taken tough measures to stem the influx, and the government said this weekend the Haitian deportations are in line with that enforcement policy.
But the migrants are being sent back to a country still reeling from a series of overlapping crises, including the assassination of the president in July and an earthquake in August. Just once since 2014, the United States has deported more than 1,000 people to the country.
As the sun set in Port-au-Prince on Sunday, more than 300 of the newly returned migrants huddled around a white tent, looking dazed and exhausted as they waited to be processed – and despondent when they returned to Square 1. Some held babies while toddlers ran around to play. Some children were crying.
Many said their only hope was to once again follow the long, arduous road of migration.
“I’m not staying in Haiti,” said Elène Jean-Baptiste, 28, who traveled with her 3-year-old son, Steshanley Sylvain, who was born in Chile and holds a Chilean passport, and her husband, Stevenson Sylvain.
Like Ms. Jean-Baptiste, many had fled Haiti years ago, in the years after the country was devastated by a previous earthquake in 2010. Most had gone to South America, hoping to find work and make a living. building in countries such as Chile and Brazil.
Recently, faced with economic turmoil and discrimination in South America and hearing that it might be easier to enter the United States under the Biden administration, they decided to make the trek north.
From Mexico, they crossed the Rio Grande to the United States, only to be detained and returned to a country embroiled in a deep political and humanitarian crisis.
In July, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated, sparking a power struggle. A month later, the impoverished southern peninsula was devastated by an earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale, and the shaky government of the Caribbean country was ill-equipped to handle the aftermath.
According to a United Nations report released last week, 800,000 people have been affected by the earthquake. A month after it struck, 650,000 are still in need of emergency humanitarian aid.
Many migrants who got off the plane on Sunday have little to return to.
Claire Bazille left home in 2015 and had a job cleaning office buildings in Chile’s capital Santiago. It was not the dream life she had left Haiti to find, but she survived and even sent money to her mother every month.
When Mrs. Bazille heard that it was possible to enter the United States under the Biden administration, she left everything behind and headed north, joining other Haitians.
On Sunday she was put on a plane and taken back to where it all started for her.
Only now the house of Mrs. Bazille’s family in Les Cayes had been destroyed by the earthquake. Her mother and six siblings live on the streets, she said, and she is alone with a small child, a backpack with all their belongings and no prospect of a job.
“I don’t know how I will survive,” said Ms. Bazille, 35. “It was the worst decision I could have made. This is where I ended up. This is not where I was going.”
At least a dozen of the migrants said they felt cheated by the United States. They said they had heard from uniformed officials that the plane they were to take was bound for Florida. When they heard otherwise, some protested but were held on board in handcuffs, they said.
“I didn’t want to come back,” says Kendy Louis, 34, who had lived in Chile but decided to move to the United States when the construction work dried up. He was traveling with his wife and 2-year-old son, and was one of those handcuffed during the flight, he said.
The Assassination of the President of Haiti
The director of migration and integration of the Haitian migration agency, Amelie Dormévil, said several returnees told her they were handcuffed at the wrists, ankles and waist during the flight.
After the first plane with the deportees landed, the first to climb out were parents with babies in their arms and toddlers at hand. Other men and women followed with little baggage, except perhaps some food or some personal belongings.
Amid confusion and shouting, the Haitians were led to the makeshift tent set up by the International Organization for Migration.
Some expressed their dismay at being returned to a place they had worked so hard to escape—and with so few resources to receive them.
“Do we have a country?” a woman asked. “They killed the president. We have no country. Look at the state of this country!”
Haitian officials gave them little reason to think otherwise.
Mr Bonheur Delva said “ongoing security issues” made the prospect of resettling thousands of new arrivals difficult to imagine. Haiti, he said, cannot provide adequate security or food for returnees.
And then there is the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I am asking for a humanitarian moratorium,” said Mr Bonheur Delva. “The situation is very difficult.”
After the earthquake in August that killed more than 2,000 people, the Biden administration has halted deportations to Haiti. But it changed course last week as the stampede of Haitian migrants entered Texas from the border state of Coahuila, Mexico, huddled under a bridge in Del Rio and further strained the United States’ overwhelmed migration system.
The deportations have confused Haiti’s new government.
“Will we have all that logistics?” said Mr. Bonheur Delva. “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 is up to them to find their own way.
Natalie Kitroeff contributed from Mexico City.