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Latin America: worrying increase in repatriations of Haitians
06 May 2011

The small island nation is not yet in a position to assure the safe return and dignified reintegration of deportees, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, (Sergi Camara/JRS)
Even though all states have the sovereign right to control the entrance and exit of non-nationals, this right is not absolute. States are required to respect international human rights law.
Bogotá, 02 May 2011 – In the last two months, the Bahamian authorities have intensified the repatriation of Haitians, following a decision to resume deportations in September 2010. During the repatriations, the rights of Haitians, such as the right to family unity, the recovery of property and wages, and to due process have all been systematically violated.

Upon their arrival in Haiti, the state has not been in a position to house the returnees or help them reintegrate into their communities of origin. Consequently, their fundamental rights to life and dignity are violated.

The Jesuit Refugee Service has urged governments on the American continent, principally the US, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas, to put a moratorium on the deportation of Haitians until the new government can ensure their safe return and dignified reintegration.

Haiti, the JRS statement continued, has not yet recovered from the effects of the 12-January earthquake, and is currently facing a cholera epidemic, a humanitarian crisis and a delicate process of political transition. In addition, JRS called on the Haitian authorities to address the situation facing its nationals throughout the Americas promptly and urgently.

Human rights violations during the repatriation process

On 27 April last, 85 Haitians, including a dozen young women and minors, were deported by the Bahamian authorities. A further 36 repatriated Haitians were intercepted on the high seas, as they travelled in a small dangerous dingy towards the Bahamian archipelago. They subsequently accused immigration agents of mistreatment.

Some of the deported Haitians had been living in the Bahamas for more than 10 years, one for 21 years, prior to their repatriation. These events have raised serious questions, according to JRS, regarding the treatment of the Haitians by the Bahamian authorities and whether or not they were afforded access to due process before being issued with repatriation orders.

According to statements by deported Haitians, many migrants were separated from their parents, partners and children, who are now alone in the Bahamian capital, Nassau. Most of the migrants were denied the opportunity to collect their belongings, including wages, before being deported, they added.

Deportations of Haitians from the Bahamas resumed

Under the pretext that a new president has been elected in Haiti, the Bahamian authorities have resumed the deportations of irregular migrants, according to information provided by deportees to JRS.

At the beginning of April, the Bahamas immigration director, Jack Thompson, announced the deportation of 91 Haitians. The increase in the deportation of Haitians began towards the end of last year. In late December, 80 migrants were deported to northern Haiti, after being intercepted in an overcrowded vessel by the coastguard of the Great Inagua archipelago.

This policy change was made public three months earlier by Mr Thompson when he announced the "immigration ministry resumed the detention and repatriation of Haitians from 1 September 2010".

"These proceedings were suspended for logistical and humanitarian reasons after the January 2010 earthquake", explained the senior Bahamian civil servant.

"One hundred and thirty-four Haitians will be repatriated this week (1 to 8 September 2010), bringing the number of repatriated Haitians to 906", Mr Thompson said.

"The immigration ministry will continue arresting and deporting all the irregular migrants found in the country, irrespective of their country of origin", he added.

In August 2010, a month earlier, a government press statement reported "a significant increase in the number of Haitian migrants trying to enter the Bahamas in an irregular manner in the last six months, and in particular, the last six weeks".

The Bahamian government stated that, in line with its migration policy, all non-Bahamians, including Haitians, who try to enter or remain in the country without a valid visa will be detained and returned to their countries of origin.

"After the 12-January earthquake, the Bahamian government understood and responded to the circumstances, temporarily suspending the detention of undocumented Haitians in the country; later, the migration department issued residence permits to 102 individuals held in the detention centre of the Bahamas", explained a press release issued by the Bahamian authorities.

However, various human rights organisations in Haiti have reported that the Bahamian authorities continued to return undocumented Haitians, a total of approximately 80 migrants between 12 January and mid-February 2010.

For instance, on 6 February 2010, 78 migrants, including a woman three months pregnant, were intercepted at sea by the Bahamas Royal Defence Forces and handed over to the American authorities to be later returned to Haiti, according to Haitian organisations.

Even though all states have the sovereign right to control the entrance and exit of non-nationals, this right is not absolute. States are required to respect international human rights law, as well as the fundamental rights and dignity of all persons, in particular vulnerable groups such as minors and women, regardless of their migration status.

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James Stapleton
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