MEXICO CITY, October 8 (Reuters) – Haitian migrant Nikel Norassaint did not know where he was headed when Mexican immigration officials put him on a flight last week to the southeastern town of Villahermosa , a few days after arresting him near the US-Mexico border.
The sea below was his only clue until the plane landed in Port-au-Prince hours later, his first time in the country in five years.
“I said, ‘Wow, I’m in Haiti,’” recalls 49-year-old Norassaint. “My heart almost stopped.”
Norassaint, who has lived abroad for two decades, and another Haitian migrant on the flight said they were stunned to be sent back to their home country without warning.
They joined some 7,000 people deported to Haiti from the United States after more than double the number amassed last month at an encampment in Del Rio, Texas, on the Mexican border. Mexico also returned 200 people in total to Haiti.
Migrant advocacy groups and even a former US special envoy to Haiti have condemned the deportations to the poverty-stricken and violent Caribbean country as inhumane, questioning the country’s administration’s promises. US President Joe Biden and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador help struggling migrants.
Norassaint said he hoped Biden, who had advocated a “humane” immigration policy, “opened the door” for migrants when he entered Del Rio to seek entry into the United States.
But he decamped to Mexico once word of the American deportations began to spread. Migration officers detained him in the town of Ciudad Acuna opposite Del Rio, then took him by bus 1,500 km south of Villahermosa.
The Mexican government’s National Institute of Migration (INM) called the September 29 flight to Port-au-Prince with 70 migrants on board “assisted voluntary return”.
But for Norassaint, who lived in the Dominican Republic for 16 years before settling in Chile in 2018, returning to Haiti was not a matter of choice.
“There is no work, it is dangerous, there was an earthquake, a lot of people died,” he said, noting that even President Jovenel Moise was assassinated in July .
When asked about Norassaint’s experience, the Mexican Migration Institute said it was following legal administrative protocol to send people back to Haiti.
“EUPHEMISMS” MIGRATION POLICY
Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch in the Americas, said in an opinion piece on Sunday that the group documented past cases of Mexican officials pressuring migrants to accept “voluntary” returns, and described the country’s migration policy as “riddled with euphemisms.”
The Migration Institute returned 130 other migrants to Haiti by plane on Wednesday; this theft was not labeled “voluntary”. A video of migrants boarding the plane, filmed by a migrant rights activist and posted on social media, showed a man jumping down stairs and rushing onto the tarmac.
Norassaint now lives with his family in the coastal town of Miragoane and asks relatives in the United States to send money as he cannot withdraw funds from his Chilean bank account.
Her 12-year-old daughter and 17-year-old stepson are still in Mexico with their mother.
Another man on board, Alfred, also mourned his surprise deportation to Haiti after leaving the country in 2009 to live in the Dominican Republic and then Chile.
He hoped to reach the United States to escape further discrimination in Chile, but remained in Mexico to avoid deportation.
Authorities arrested Alfred, who requested anonymity due to the precarious security situation in Haiti, as he left his hotel in Ciudad Acuna to purchase food and supplies for his wife, who was two months pregnant.
Alfred had traveled to Mexico on the advice of a WhatsApp group while his wife was on the plane so that she wouldn’t have to risk her life crossing the jungle between Colombia and Panama.
During the week of migrant detention, he was allowed to make a brief call to his wife, who said she was heading for the northern border town of Tijuana.
“I’m about to have a heart attack, thinking I left my wife behind,” Alfred said. “We’ve been together for ten years. Look where she is now, and here I am.”
Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Aurora Ellis
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