US special envoy for Haiti resigns amid deportations, as refugees face tough decision

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – The US special envoy for Haiti, Ambassador Daniel Foote, has resigned amid mass deportations of Haitian refugees who fled recent political turmoil and natural disasters at home, a PBS reporter said in a Twitter post on Thursday (Sept 23).

“I will not be associated with the United States’ inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti, a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs in control of daily life,” Mr Foote said in his resignation, according to the report, two months after his appointment.

Mr Foote said US policy on Haiti remained deeply flawed and that his recommendations had been ignored and dismissed.

The Haitian state has collapsed and is not providing security or even basic services, he wrote.

“Surging migration to our borders will only grow as we add to Haiti’s unacceptable misery. Haitians need the opportunity to chart their own course, without international puppeteering and favoured candidates but with genuine support for that course.” 

The State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, thanked Mr Foote for his service, but said the ambassador had overstepped his remit.

“He’s consistently sought a greater oversight, greater responsibility in a way that we did not think was appropriate or prudent at the time,” the official said.

His resignation comes as more Haiti refugees have been returned to their country from the US.

A migrant camp in Texas near the Mexican border where as many as 14,000 Haitians amassed in recent days has shrunk to less than half that size amid expulsion flights and detentions, even as some stay, committed to trying to remain in the US.

The US has returned 1,401 migrants from the camp at Del Rio, Texas, to Haiti and taken another 3,206 people into custody, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said late on Wednesday.

Mr Wade McMullen, an attorney with the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organisation, said several hundred people, mostly pregnant women and parents with children, had been released in Del Rio, Texas, over the past several days.

Those people, and others in detention who have not been expelled, will have immigration court dates.

The Del Rio area, which includes the camp where families have crammed into makeshift shelters made out of reeds on the banks of the Rio Grande, now holds fewer than 5,000 people, DHS said.

The deportations came amid profound instability in the Caribbean nation, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, where a presidential assassination, gang violence and a major earthquake have spread chaos in recent weeks.

Mr Filippo Grandi, the head of the UN refugee agency, warned that the US expulsions to Haiti might violate international law.

On the other side of the river, several hundred more Haitians are living in Ciudad Acuna in a makeshift camp dotted with blankets, pieces of cardboard and a handful of tarps and tents.

The International Committee of the Red Cross called for protection for Haitians gathered in Mexico, noting their “special condition of vulnerability” in a statement on Wednesday.

Stay or go?

As the US authorities escalate expulsion flights, some Haitian families have decided to stay in Mexico and seek legal status there rather than risk being returned to Haiti.

Enex and Wendy were among those who planned to stay in Mexico with their 2-year-old daughter after hearing about the expulsions.

But on Wednesday morning, a cousin told them on WhatsApp that he had succeeded in entering the United States with his wife and had a court date to request asylum in October.

“I’m free… I’m in Texas,” the message read.

Enex and Wendy, who asked not to disclose their last name, spent hours on Wednesday paralysed by uncertainty before finally gathering up their few belongings and forging the river to the US side to try their luck, the latest turning point in their odyssey from Chile that included a seven-day stretch through the dangerous Darien jungle.

Thousands more Haitians, some of whom had been waiting for months for responses on their asylum applications in southern Mexico, travelled north to Mexico City, Veracruz, and Monterrey this week.

Mexico’s refugee agency, Comar, said that because of high demand there are no appointments available in its office in Tapachula, near the border with Guatemala, until next year and that many pending appointments had been rescheduled.

Ms Juliana Exime, a Haitian migrant, decided to stay and wait out the process in Tapachula, despite the delays.

“I was going to go with a big group heading north, but I’m very scared they are going to deport me,” she said. “The only thing I want is that they let me work in Mexico, I want to do things legally.”

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