As Haiti continues to reel from the “triple tragedy” of natural disasters, gang violence and the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) expressed concern on Thursday that two-thirds of Haitian migrants expelled from the United States border in recent days are women and children – including newborns with “specific and immediate needs”.
“When children and families are sent back without adequate protection, they find themselves even more vulnerable to violence, poverty and displacement – factors that drove them to migrate in the first place”, said Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
A rocky road
Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere and has been long plagued with poverty, civil unrest, political and economic instability.
Last month, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake rocked the country, upending lives, destroying markets, roads and irrigation systems. And just days after the seismic event, Tropical Storm Grace amped up the suffering with additional damages.
Wanting to secure a better life, thousands of Haitians – many of whom have been living outside their homeland for years – have fled to Mexico with the hope of entering the US.
They have been met with a show of force from border agents in Texas, with scenes broadcast around the world of horse-mounted officers violently corralling migrants, evoking tactics widely used in the slave-era South.
On Thursday morning, the US special envoy for Haiti, resigned in protest over the deportation of Haitian migrants by plane from the border area, a process which began last weekend, after more than 13,000 migrants had gathered and set up camp, under a bridge.
UNICEF urged authorities to “refrain from any use of force at borders, to keep families together, and to properly assess migrants’ protection needs before any decision on return is made”.
“Children should never be returned to situations where their basic safety and wellbeing are at risk”, said the UN agency.
Haiti is the one of poorest countries in the world, where many people are forced to live from handouts from humanitarian agencies.
Initial assessments in Mexico and Haiti suggest that many of the children under age 10 were either born outside Haiti or lived most of their lives in another country.
Zeroing-in on Haitian migrant families camped in the southwest Texas border town of Del Rio, UNICEF estimated that about 40 per cent were children who “live in overcrowded and inadequate conditions and need basic humanitarian support”.
News reports said that more than 1,400 Haitians have been returned from the area, since the deportations began.
Children must ‘trump all’
Meanwhile UNICEF continues to work for children and families to receive basic assistance, including in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, where it will help with child protection services and deliver drinking water, hygiene kits, mobile toilets and handwashing stations.
In Haiti, the agency is coordinating with national authorities and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to provide the returning children with psychosocial support, protection services and education supplies.
But more support is needed to provide these families with the life-saving assistance they need.
“The best interests of children must trump all other considerations”, underscored the UNICEF chief.