WHEN DISASTER STRIKES A WEAK ECONOMY

SOMETIMES, it is difficult to remember that all humans live on a single, delicate planet; that we all have imaginations that enable us to feel sympathy for the troubles that our fellow humans are often confronted with.

We all applaud the brilliant scientific achievements trhat are enabling humans to acquaint themselves with the real-time conditions that exist on extra-terrestrial bodies such as Mars and the Moon. But, at the same time, we wonder how those best-placed to assist hard-pressed peoples on earth, can close their eyes ansd ears to the plight of those hard hit by natural disasters here on earth

It’s not as if the victims have no words to tell us what they are going through. On 14 August 14, 2021, an earthquake that measured 7.2 degrees on the Richter scale, hit the island of Haiti. It was centred near Petit Troup de Nippes, approximately 78 miles to the west of the capital city, Port-au-Prince. It released approximately twice as much energy as a 7.0 Richter-scale earthquake that affected the country in 2010. 

Both earthquakes occurred on the same fault line. A resident of Haiti, surveying the damage caused by the second earthquake, with the 2010 quake as a reference point, asked: “What are we going to do? We don’t have any resources.”

Many of the people without “any resources”, have been walking – walking from neighbouring countries, have been leaving Haiti. Some have managed to reach outside countries from Haiti, in the hope of being able to move from there towards the United States. Mexico is key to their efforts to reach America. But the US authorities are being extremely tough on the refugees who manage to get near US border crossings. 

At one camp for refugees, a man told reporters: “There are people here who have been walking! We arrived nearly dead. If they aren’t going to accept more people … perhaps Canada will lend a hand, or Mexico. Everyone is coming back to Mexico to see if the Mexican President can lend a hand.” 

The refugee who made this statement had reached the southern bank of the Rio Grande, after leaving a refugee encampment near the international bridge, on the U.S side.

The humanitarian needs in Texas remained “urgent” (reported the El Paso Times) as the Biden administration continued a six-point strategy that included providing some assistance to those camped on the U.S. side of the river and deterring others from crossing, by ramping up expulsion flights to Haiti. At one point, more than 10,000 people filled the camp.

The US Homeland Security Secretary, Alejandro N. Mayorkas, was quoted as saying that the administration was distributing food and water in one makeshift camp, and was setting up portable toilets in Del Rio. At the same time (he added) his department was working to process, and move, up to 3,000 people per day. Most would be expelled to Haiti, or what he described as other “destinations in the western hemisphere” under the public health law known as Title 42. 

“If you come to the United States illegally, you will be returned,” Mayorkas said. “Your journey will not succeed and you will be endangering your life and your family’s lives. This administration is committed to developing safe, orderly and humane pathways to migration, but this is not the way to do it.”

TheEl Paso Times reported that “Images and video footage of Border Patrol agents on horseback, chasing down Haitian migrants as they tried to reach the U.S.”, had “outraged immigrant advocates”. Even White House spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, called the images “horrific.” “I don’t think anyone seeing that footage would think it was acceptable or appropriate,” Psaki told reporters.

The Title 42 public health law allows U.S. immigration authorities to quickly return migrants to Mexico or their country of origin, regardless of whether they intend to claim asylum or other relief. Some supporters of President Joe Biden are critical of the policy, because it was the Trump administration that invoked Title 42 as a tool of border security, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It seems inconceivable to some Biden supporters that the Biden administration should want to continue using the Trump methods. 

Commenting on the situation, Alex Deslume, chairman of the National Haitian American Elected Official Network, based in Orlando, Florida, ssaid: “It’s a humanitarian crisis. Our organization does not support people being sent back.” 

The pattern of migration that led the Haitians to Del Rio, Texas, has been years in the making. Thousands of Haitians left their country years ago to work in Brazil and Chile. When each of those countries faced economic downturns, and political winds shifted, many Haitians either lost their jobs or found they were no longer welcome. And they began heading north. In times of disaster, as could be expected, the outflow increases.

In many cases, the refgees travel by bus and foot in a months-long journey to Mexico. That country offered Haitians asylum for a time, before the pandemic. After Trump lost office, Haitians began attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, hoping to find a return of the traditional US asylum system, or other means of obtaining refuge. Uneven enforcement of the border regulations, during the pandemic, has led to rumours and confusion creating panic on migrant routes.

“Policies at the border have been quite different, sector to sector, and often seem somewhat random,” said Doris Meissner, director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Programme at the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.. “Some people have been able to get in and that feeds the belief that it is worth trying.”

Although Haitian migrants have been crossing without permission, traversing the river that divides the U.S. and Mexico, the U.S. Government has now shut down the international bridge between Del Rio and Ciudad Acuña.

BY CAMERON DUODU

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