Haiti is reeling from a humanitarian and security crisis linked to months of political instability and gang violence.
The United Nations refugee chief has called on countries to suspend the forced return of Haitians to their countries, where gang violence and political instability are fueling a humanitarian and security crisis.
In a statement on Thursday, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi called on “all states to show solidarity with Haiti and urge them not to return Haitians to a country that is extremely vulnerable.”
“Haitian women, children and men who are outside the country and have returned to Haiti could face life-threatening health and safety risks and further displacement in the country,” the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said.
Haiti has seen months of escalating violence as armed gangs battled for control in the political vacuum created by the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021.
Thousands of Haitians have left the country, as well as other host countries in the US region where they lived under worse conditions, in hopes of reaching the United States.
Many have taken perilous trips by sea or trudged through a perilous jungle passage between Colombia and Panama known as the Darien Gap.
But the US maintains strict restrictions on its southern border with Mexico, rejecting most asylum seekers without giving them a chance to file a protection claim.
Last year, US authorities carried out a “systematic mass deportation” of Haitians, leading to condemnation from rights groups and UN experts.
Back in Haiti, powerful gangs have maintained a blockade of a major petrol terminal in the capital Port-au-Prince in recent weeks, leading to a dire shortage of fuel and water.
Hospitals have been forced to cut back on services due to a lack of electricity, which is also complicating response to another cholera outbreak.
Haiti’s acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry last month asked the international community to help set up a “specialized force” to curb the violence – a call backed by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
However, Haitian civil society organizations have expressed concern at the prospect of a foreign force entering the country, saying such interventions have done more harm than good in the past.
But the situation on the streets of Port-au-Prince has continued to deteriorate and many say something needs to be done to protect residents.
The administration of US President Joe Biden is working on a resolution to establish a “non-UN, international security mission” in Haiti to respond to the crises.
That initiative appears to have stalled, although Brian Nichols, the US Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, told reporters last week that he could unite “very optimistic” countries.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also said during a trip to Canada last week that talks are underway to determine which countries would be willing to participate.
“The purpose of such a mission would be to support the Haitian National Police in doing their job,” he said, “to ensure that the state returns to effective control of the country, not the gangs that are currently of the biggest problems are those we face if we can actually move forward and help Haiti.”
In a separate statement on Thursday, UN human rights chief Volker Turk said “urgent and sustained action” was needed.
“People are being killed by firearms, they are dying because they don’t have access to safe drinking water, food, health care, women are being raped with impunity. The levels of insecurity and the dire humanitarian situation are devastating to the people of Haiti,” Turk said.
The UN also warned that food insecurity is on the rise as 4.7 million Haitians face “acute hunger”.