Haiti Archives 1994-1996
21/01/96 HAITI-MIGRATION: Caribbean Returnees Become the Norm by Dan Coughlin

Copyright 1995 InterPress Service, all rights reserved. Worldwide distribution via the APC networks

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jan 21 (IPS) – The sight of U.S. Coast Guard cutters intercepting and returning tens of thousands of Haitian refugees may be the standard image of the 20-year-long mass flight of Haitians from their homeland.

But following the restoration of the constitutional government by U.S.-led forces some 15 months ago, a new shift has occurred in Haitian refugee politics: repatriations from neighboring Caribbean countries have equaled and surpassed those from the United States, according to the Haitian government and refugee agencies.

‘’We’ve always had the (Caribbean) repatriations, but not at such high levels,’’ said Priva Precil, the co-coordinator of the Haitian government’s Office of National Migration (ONM).

Indeed, more than half of an estimated 14,000 people repatriated to Haiti in 1995 — many of them forcibly — came from the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, St. Martin, French Guiana and other Caribbean countries, according to statistics compiled from the Haitian Red Cross Federation, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Haitian government.

In 1994, about 22,000 people were returned to Haiti, the vast majority refugees who were detained at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to the Haitian Red Cross Federation.

The ‘’Caribbean-specific’’ nature of last year’s trend was dramatically — and tragically — higlighted last month by the death of 21 Haitians in two different repatriation accidents.

Sixteen Haitians, two French policemen and two pilots were killed in early December when their plane crashed in southeastern Haiti. The Haitians were being expelled from the French overseas territories of French Guiana, on the northeast coast of South America, and the island of Guadeloupe. Among the dead, three infants born in Cayenne, the capital of French Guiana.

Only days later, five Haitians were killed and two dozen injured in a bus crash in the Dominican Republic. The Haitians were rounded-up at construction sites in and around the Dominican capital and thrown onto a bus back to the border, according to press reports.

The expulsions – and the deaths — of the Haitians drew fiery protests from human rights groups and the Haitian government. Hundreds of people, including government ministers, attended a Jan. 9 official state funeral for 15 of the Haitians killed in the plane crash. And 25 French organizations denounced the French government for taking ‘’such an active role in this chain of evil which touches the most unfavored of people.’’

‘’Every day they have repatriations, but you only find out about it when people get killed,’’ noted the ONM’s Percil, adding that there is a lack of coordination about how and when repatriations occur.

ONM officials also complain that many Haitians are arrested and returned against their will.

The most obvious and long-standing example is with the Dominican Republic, which in a single month this past summer forcibly expelled one thousand Haitians. Although accurate statistics on the ebb and flow of Haitians and Dominican-Haitians across the border are hard to find, human rights groups report that repatriations occur regularly.

A relatively new actor in the deportation of Haitian workers is the French government, notably from French Caribbean islands like St. Martin, Guadeloupe, and Martinique as well as French Guiana.

The deportations from St. Martin began after Hurricane Luis tore through the French/Dutch island in early September. Some were expelled from the Dutch side, and at least 400 Haitians were deported from French St. Martin last year, and perhaps as many as 700, according to the Haitian Red Cross Federation.

Similarly, Haitian and French government officials, as well as those with the Red Cross, say they don’t have figures on how many Haitians were expelled from French Guiana last year. But in the past, French officials have said that about 500 Haitians were deported from the territory in 1995, while Priva Percil of the ONM estimates that some 2,000 people were expelled back to Haiti from all the French Caribbean territories this year.

The British territory of Turks and Caicos, a chain of islands just north of Haiti, repatriated some 300 Haitians this year, according to the Haitian Red Cross Federation.

But it’s been the Bahamas that deported the most Haitians, or people of Haitian ancestry, this past year. Like other Caribbean countries, as well as the United States and Canada, Haitians were originally brought to the island chain in the 1950s as a low wage labor force. But, in recent years, the Bahaman government has begun targeting them for deportations.

As part of an ongoing accord with the Haitian government, the Bahamas repatriated 5000 people to Haiti in 1995, according to the Haitian Red Cross. Priva Percil of the Haitian government’s Office of National Migration (ONM) estimates that only 15 percent of the Bahaman returnees are voluntary.

Meanwhile, Haitian refugees continue to flee in boats and then get picked up by U.S. Coast Guard cutters. Earlier this month, the U.S. Coast Guard returned 195 Haitians to Port-au-Prince after intercepting their boat off the northwest coast of Haiti. For 1995 as a whole, the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted and returned nearly 2,000 Haitians, well down on 1994 figures of 30,000 which was caused by the military dictatorship.

In addition, U.S. officials officially closed in early 1995 the Haitian refugee camps at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, sending home another 5,000 people. (END/IPS/DC/YJC/96)

Origin: Amsterdam/HAITI-MIGRATION/ ----

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