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How "voluntary" are Mexico's 'humanitarian return flights'?

Published in: Reforma
Haitians deported from the United States leave Toussaint Louverture International Airport under a rain shower in Port au Prince, Haiti on September 19, 2021. © 2021 Joseph Odelyn/AP Images

Since mid-September, United States and Mexican authorities have removed thousands of mostly Haitian migrants and asylum seekers from makeshift camps in Del Rio, Texas and Ciudad Acuña, across the border in the Mexican state of Coahuila. The US has expelled nearly 6,500 people to Haiti without allowing them to seek asylum.

Now, Mexican immigration authorities have announced the start of “humanitarian return flights” for any Haitians who “voluntarily wish to return to their country.” There is strong reason to doubt these returns will be either voluntary or humanitarian.

Haiti is in the midst of a series of political, humanitarian, and security crises that have left the government unable to meet the basic needs of its people. These include the assassination of the president in July and a major earthquake in August. Hundreds of human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, recently called on the US government to halt deportations to Haiti given the crises there. And the heads of Mexico’s own asylum authority  and the Mexico office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have both insisted that Mexico should not return Haitians to Haiti for the same reason.

Human Rights Watch and other organizations have documented how Mexican immigration agents often pressure migrants and asylum seekers into signing papers to be “voluntarily” returned to their countries, even when they are fleeing violence or persecution and require international protection. In fact, Mexican immigration officials have openly admitted to Human Rights Watch that they call nearly all deportations that are not ordered by a court “assisted returns,” regardless of whether they are voluntary. Of the more than 54,000 migrants Mexico deported between January and July of this year, around 53,000 of them were classified as having undergone “assisted returns” by the Mexican government.

Mexico’s immigration system is replete with such euphemisms. Migrants are not apprehended, but “rescued.” They are not detained, but “presented.” And they are not held in detention centers, but “migratory stations.” It is easy to see how deportations become “humanitarian return flights.” It’s important to remember they are not.

President López Obrador has boasted that he leads a “humanist government.” He regularly praises Mexican migrants forced to leave their homes and travel to the United States. His failure to protect the lives and rights of migrants in Mexico is shameful, hypocritical, and anything but humanitarian.

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