Author: Kalesh Loakman, LLM
January 4, 2023
The Haitian Humanitarian Crisis Beyond Haiti:
Analysing the Responsibilities of Caribbean States Towards Haitians Fleeing Crisis
Current State of Affairs
The French Caribbean nation of Haiti remains affected by a humanitarian crisis, spawned by a multitude of factors that dates back decades, but is currently escalating due to the intensifying presence of organized gangs and gang-related violence in the nation’s capital of Port-au-Prince. Despite international intervention via the passage of the critical United Nations Security Council’s (UNSC) resolution to send peacekeeping troops to the country to subdue escalating gang violence, UN Special Representative, Maria Isabel Salvador reported to the UNSC that “major crimes are rising sharply and reaching new record highs”. Moreover, Kenya’s Supreme Court’s decision to halt the deployment of troops lead the Multinational Security Support (MSS) mission to Haiti, in accordance with the UNSC resolution, has put a gloom on the gang situation in Haiti being mitigated any time soon. One cannot escape the conclusion that the factors which have worked against Haiti, a country heavily dependent on international support, amidst the persistence of heinous crimes such as murders, kidnapping, rapes and sexual violence, which has rendered at least half of the Haitian population in the nation’s capital in need of humanitarian aid.
The impacts of the humanitarian crisis are also being felt outside of the territorial boundaries of Haiti, as thousands of Haitians have been forced to flee their homes and homeland for their own personal safety. Notably, like the current spur of gang violence in the country which has been the worst humanitarian situation in decades, this new wave of forced migration of thousands out of Haiti has been similarly characterised as the worst in decades. The alarming rise of gang violence have added a new dimension to existing socioeconomic and political instability in the country, further exacerbating the crisis in Haiti. Equally notably, the situation has subjected thousands of scattered Haitians to unequal and discriminatory treatment in countries which they have fled to and has led to a situation which entails large-scale compromise of human rights protections.
The Caribbean Island states have felt the displacement effects and have responded in a matter that prioritizes national interest and security over any obligation moral or otherwise to accommodate Haitians fleeing crisis. It should be noted that the effects of migration have been felt throughout the Americas as well. The people of Haiti who have escaped hardship in their country can be found scattered as far south as Brazil and Argentina, in Central America, and in Canada and the United States of America in North America. It is important that a human-right based approach is employed and promoted in response to what has been described as “the next major displacement of peoples in the Americas” in recent times.
A Call Against Repatriation
An apt starting point in discussing the implications of this humanitarian crisis is to first concede that Haitians are not leaving on their own free will but are fleeing on account of pressure from wide ranging factors. Amidst the new wave of the security crisis in Haiti in 2022, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) urged states, as a preliminary step towards dealing with the growing crisis, to desist from employing policies which forcibly return of Haitians back to Haiti. However, this has not dissuaded some states in the region from implementing strict repatriation policies.
Geographic proximity between neighbouring Dominican Republic and Haiti, which both sit on the island of Hispaniola explains why the former has seen one of the largest influx of Haitians in recent times. However, the reaction of the Dominican Republic towards Haitians has attracted much attention as criticism. Under international law, states have an obligation to eradicate discriminatory immigration practices, especially when such practices have a disproportionate impact on a specific group of persons, namely, Haitians. It was reported that between 2022 and 2023, 120,000 Haitians in the Dominican Republic were deported to Haiti. The President of the Dominican Republic, Luis Abinader described the action as an effort to protect the integrity of the Dominican Republic. There is a similar correlation with other Caribbean nations, the incidence of Haitians fleeing to those countries and the consequent forceful removals of Haitians, as northern Caribbean territories such as Turks and Caicos Islands, The Bahamas and Cuba, along with the United States of America, have been found also engaging in deportations.
Treatment of Haitians in States They Have Settled
Haitians are risking their lives to escape conditions in Haiti, and there have been reports of boats carrying fleeing Haitians capsizing, which resulted in the death of dozens of Haitian migrants. The U.S. was lauded for its December 5, 2022 announcement that Haitians in the U.S. will be eligible for temporary protected status, a program which allows migrants whose home countries are considered to be unsafe and grants these migrants the temporary but extendable authority to work and live in the U.S for the eighteen-month period between February 2023 to August 2024. However, the U.S. has been criticised for not honouring the conditions of the TPS by deporting Haitian nationals. However, there is a notable trend in the Caribbean region that wherever Haitians have fled to and consequently settled as a result of the deteriorating situation on the island, they have been subjected to stigma, unequal treatment and discrimination.
In February of this year, the Bahamian Prime Minister, Phillip Davis was emboldened to proclaim that “The Bahamas is for Bahamians”, and has hinted that its regional sister of Haiti will not be exempt from the Bahamas’ strict anti-illegal immigration campaign. The Immigration Minister of the Turks and Caicos has indicated that the government will remain relentless in “ridding“ the island of undocumented Haitian migrants, and that employers who hire Haitian migrants will be “targeted” by the government. Moreover, the Minister of Immigration and Border Services of Turks and Caicos Islands, Hon. Arlington Musgrove in response to the UN appeal calling on a halt of the deportation of Haitians from nearby island states emphatically expressed that he will continue to deport illegal immigrants, and the Haitian people nor their circumstances will not exempt them from deportation. Additionally, children born in the Bahamas to mothers who are Haitian nationals are no granted an automatic right to Bahamian citizenship, and are therefore left without a citizenship, in direct contravention of articles 8 and 9 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which guarantees every child a right to citizenship from birth. In the Dominican Republic where Haitians have been longstanding subjects of migration, recent developments have only worsened national regard towards the intensifying influx of Haitians. Haitians’ rights to fair wages and compensation is not protected in the Dominican Republic, as many Haitians cognizant of their status of being illegally in the country, often take up the lowest paying jobs on plantations or construction sites. This, in turns, impacts their ability to access adequate food and healthcare and are often relegated to seek shelter inadequate housing.
The treatment of Haitians is also replete with discrimination. Though the Dominican Republic has also similarly received a significant number of Venezuelan refugees, discrimination based on skin colour has subjected Haitians to immigration raids with the consequential effect of deportation. n English-speaking states such as the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands, the language barrier has subjected French and Kreyol-speaking Haitians to stigma and discriminatory treatment, in violation of the International Convention on the Elimination on All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Iterating the Responsibility of States to Protect Rights of Displaced Haitians
It appears that Caribbean states have understood their international legal responsibility differently. While island states such as the Bahamas has been stringent about the influx of Haitians entering illegally, the Bahamas as well as Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda have signaled their willingness to abating the Haitian humanitarian crisis and render support to Haiti under the peacekeeping mechanism established by the UN Security Council. Human rights experts have also called for states to investigate any human rights violations surrounding the treatment of Haitians in their respective states. However, states have duties under the international bill of rights to ensure that Haitians are not subjected to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment and racial profiling, which are protections afforded to all human being, notwithstanding one’s nationality.