New York, NY
U.S. and Dominican Republic Undermine Basic Rights of Haitian Asylum Seekers, Women’s Commission Report Finds
A new Haitian refugee crisis is looming on the horizon just as the United States and the Dominican Republic, the two largest receiving countries for Haitians, have taken action to prevent Haitians from seeking asylum, according to a report released today by the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children. The report, Refugee Policy Adrift: The United States and Dominican Republic Deny Haitians Protection, documents that the U.S. government is offering Haitians significantly less protection than any other nationality despite the escalating human rights abuses and political instability occurring in Haiti.
“These policies violate international refugee law and make it difficult, if not impossible, for Haitian refugees to get a fair opportunity to present their asylum claims,” says Wendy Young, Director of Government Relations, Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, and author of the report. “The U.S. government has systematically singled out Haitians—including women and children—for prolonged detention and fast-tracked review of their asylum claims, resulting in many having to present their cases without legal counsel. In addition, the United States routinely intercepts boats with Haitian refugees and, in the vast majority of cases, forces them to return to Haiti without screening their asylum claims.” Even when Haitians are found to qualify for refugee status, the United States has resettled them to third countries rather than admit them.
The Women’s Commission interviewed Haitian women who spent months in U.S. detention before they were denied asylum and repatriated to Haiti. The women reported suffering further human rights abuses upon return, including imprisonment in harsh conditions and beatings. Some were forced to go into hiding subsequent to their return and report that they will attempt to flee Haiti again at the earliest opportunity.
The U.S. government has defended its use of these restrictive measures as necessary both to deter Haitians from leaving their country and to protect national security. It also has characterized Haitian migration as driven by economic factors, ignoring the serious deterioration in political conditions in Haiti.
“While it might be that some Haitians leave their homeland to escape economic deprivation, this cannot be used as an excuse to deny protection to those individuals who merit refugee protection,” says Young. “Likewise, national security concerns stemming from September 11, 2001, cannot be used by the United States to rationalize deterrent measures designed to undermine the right of Haitian asylum seekers to pursue protection. Such measures not only violate international and domestic refugee law, they reflect poorly on a country that prides itself on its respect for refugee and human rights.”
Haitians seeking asylum in the Dominican Republic also face hurdles. The Dominican government has failed to implement asylum procedures that are just and effective, leaving hundreds of Haitians in limbo, subject to deportation, detention, and police abuse, with no means to support themselves or their families.
The Women’s Commission urges the United States to acknowledge its leading role in refugee protection in the region and offer Haitians full access to the U.S. asylum system. This includes immediately discontinuing its interdiction and summary return policy, as well as its prolonged detention of Haitian asylum seekers and the expedited consideration of their claims.