UNHCR Urges Halt of Involuntary Returns to Haiti

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Last week, LIRS advocacy intern Carrie Tennant participated in a conference call in which the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued a renewed appeal to governments worldwide urging leaders to postpone all involuntary returns to Haiti on humanitarian grounds. The UNHCR warns that conditions in the country remain unstable eighteen months after the massive earthquake that devastated the nation’s capital in January of 2010. LIRS has witnessed the sad consequences of this instability and recognizes the need for continued support for Haiti.

Today, an estimated 600,000 people are still displaced, living in tent camps in Port-au-Prince and surrounding towns. Although reconstruction efforts in Haiti continue, the nation’s infrastructure was severely weakened by the earthquake and cannot yet ensure adequate support for vulnerable individuals such as unaccompanied children, disabled persons, individuals with health problems, and victims of trafficking or sexual abuse.

In light of the delicate situation in Haiti, the UNHCR is renewing its plea to governments to halt involuntary returns. LIRS has also been advocating for the halt of deportations to Haiti since the federal government resumed this practice. During last Friday’s conference call, Vincent Cochetel, Washington, D.C. regional representative for the UNHCR, expressed hope that reissuing the advisory might change the practice of the U.S. and Caribbean states that have resumed deportations to Haiti for individuals interdicted at sea.

The UNHCR also expressed concern that there is not an adequate screening process for individuals who are interdicted at sea, a concern which LIRS shares.  This means that some individuals with a credible fear and good-faith asylum claim never get the opportunity to petition for protection in a third country. LIRS is concerned that without adequate screening vulnerable individuals could face inhumane and dangerous conditions upon their return.

Sen. Leahy (D-VT) has taken action to address the problems that refugees interdicted at sea face in the Refugee Protection Act (S. 1202). The Refugee Protection Act of 2011 would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to develop uniform policies to identify asylum seekers among those interdicted at sea and to treat those individuals in a fair, non-discriminatory manner. Please visit the LIRS Action Center to urge support for asylum seekers from countries like Haiti.

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