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“The condition of Haitians as invisible migrants is linked to racism in many countries of the Americas”

Now there is a migrant crisis Haitians on the border between Mexico and the United States. But there is also it in Brazil, in Chile, in Colombia, in Panama …

“We are facing a crisis that was predictable, and that tried to make itself invisible for a long time,” he tells BBC Mundo. Caitlyn Yates, an American anthropologist who has studied the subject in depth.

Images of US border officers chasing down Haitian migrants last week sparked outrage, as did thousands of people spending days under the bridge that links the Mexican and US sides.

The White House called the photos “horrendous”And announced investigations. The US special envoy in Haiti resigned over the “inhumane treatment of Haitians.”

But for months it was clear that tens of thousands of Haitian migrants, who left the country in the last decade, were on their way to the southern US border.

As soon as the border restrictions of the pandemic were lifted, they headed north, even crossing the dreaded Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia.

Little is known about the future of these migrants, but their past, or what happened after an earthquake that changed Haiti’s history in 2010, has been one of the main objects of study for Yates, an expert on migration, border and security. transnational.

To understand what this wave of Haitian migrants means, BBC Mundo spoke with the professor at the University of British Columbia, in Canada.

What are we seeing now?

This is part of a migration of Haitians that began after the earthquake in 2010 that did not necessarily go, in principle, to the United States.

We are now looking at 15,000 Haitian migrants on the US-Mexico border, but we must also talk about the hundreds of thousands of Haitian migrants who have dispersed throughout the Americas over the past 11 years.

And what we are seeing now is the result of a decade-long process in which these people sought opportunities for life and security in Latin America, and did not find them.

The current crisis is evidence that there are no opportunities for Haitian migrants in the entire region.

What differentiates this wave of Haitian migrants from previous waves of Central Americans, for example?

One difference is that they did not migrate to the United States first, but went to Brazil and Chile and were there until those options became untenable.

It is a double migration, which shows the structural problems of countries like Brazil and Chile, where they did not find economic opportunities, access to social services, employment and a home.

Another factor is the pandemic, because Haitians have been migrating through Central America since 2016 but the numbers dropped in 2020 amid restrictions on mobility.

As soon as Haitians saw that the borders were opened, at least partially, they tried to fulfill their objective of months ago, which was to migrate to the United States.

The discontent and insecurity of Haitians in Chile and Brazil accumulated to the point that, as soon as the restrictions of the pandemic ceased, they started their way north.

This did not start now: since the beginning of 2021 they have been moving through South and Central America and now they have reached the border between Mexico and the United States.

So this has little to do with the assassination of the president in July and the earthquake in August. Will a new wave of migrants come as a result of the latest political and climate crisis?

It is likely that there are more Haitians moving through the Americas in general, but it is difficult to know, because several countries have created new restrictions on the entry of Haitians and because we are still in a pandemic and the costs for Haitians may be higher now.

Most likely, more Haitians want to continue emigrating, but the question is where they will be able to go and who will want to receive them.


Speaking of migrants in general, everything indicates that this may get worse: there are more climate crises, there is a pandemic, there is a social crisis. Are we facing an unprecedented scenario for migration in America?

In terms of the place of origin, yes, because they are leaving countries like Haiti or Venezuela. But there are also new destinations: Colombia, Costa Rica, Brazil and Mexico have become recipient countries. And the reasons why they emigrate are also different.

But migrants have been arriving at the US-Mexico border for decades. In the 80s and 90s the numbers of apprehended migrants were higher than now.

Nor would I say that the United States is in a worse position to receive migrants, because, on the contrary, it has more information, better monitoring capacity and greater infrastructure.

It is possible that this is a more complex migration than the previous ones, because Haitians do not speak Spanish, many have dual citizenship and, once again, we are in a pandemic.

If the United States has even more capacities to receive migrants, then what has changed is its willingness to receive them, even with a Democratic government like Joe Biden’s?

The immigration policies that the United States is now promoting at the border are, for the most part, a continuation of the policies implemented by Donald Trump.

Title 42 is still in force, which allows restricting the entry of foreigners to the country (due to the pandemic). And the migrants are still being expelled.

There is a whole discussion about whether the Haitian migrants thought that Biden was going to be more flexible in letting them in and staying and so they came. But I don’t think there is evidence of that, because there were never any clear signs of a change in policy.

Is it more difficult to be a migrant today than it was 10 or 20 years ago?

In terms of surveillance and information gathering, it is more difficult to migrate without running into the authorities or being registered in some system. And that makes the transit more difficult.

These information systems have become transnational. So, if you are registered in one country, you are probably not free of restrictions in another, because your name or your biometric information have already been recorded in information systems shared between countries in the hemisphere.

And we return to the issue of the pandemic, which has restricted access to shelters or medical care.


Why is it not spoken of Haitian migrants as it is spoken of migrants, say, Venezuelans?

The first thing is that at first there were not so many, but it also happened that countries such as Chile, Brazil and others wanted to keep the migration of Haitians off the radar so as not to have to put resources into attending them, especially at a time when they were having to attend other migrations, such as the Venezuelan.

It is also true that Haitians were not staying large amounts of time in one place, but were moving from Brazil to Chile and from Chile to Colombia and so on.

But this is also because countries like Colombia, Panama and other Central Americans were interested in having migration continue on its way: to push them fluidly north as long as they did not stay.

Many told them: go your way, we can even facilitate that movement. And the matrix was generated that Haitians, compared to the Central American migrant, were the model migrant, in the sense that they did not stay in Central America.

What is this about the model migrant?

It is an idea that was generated in Mexico, where they were compared with Central American migrants.

When they began to arrive in Mexico in 2016, Haitians were initially seen as the enterprising, quiet migrant who reduced himself to his space, while the Central American migrant was more visceral, more massive, occupying public space.

But as Haitian migrants grew, and required access to services, they were no longer seen as something exemplary.


Were they a model to the extent that there were not many?

A model insofar as they were invisible. But that now changed.

The attention of Haitian migration was for several years relegated. On the one hand, because there were not so many, then the attention was not urgent before the media and the public. But also, when they began to see more, there was an attempt by several countries to relegate or push the issue to the next country.

The crisis we are seeing today is the result of the neglect of Haitian migration for a decade.

Did the countries try to relegate a crisis that sooner or later was going to become visible?

There has been an attempt to use as few resources as possible as long as the Haitian migrants do not stay in each country.

The 15,000 migrants who are now on the Texas-Mexico border are not a large number compared to the number of Haitian migrants who have passed through all of Latin America this year.

Now we see a crisis on the Mexico-United States border, but there is also a crisis and there was in Mexico-Guatemala and Panama-Colombia, among others.

We are facing a crisis that was predictable, and that tried to make itself invisible for a long time.

But now it is impossible to hide. Today governments can no longer make Haitian migration invisible.


Do you think that this invisibility is measured by racism?

The invisible migrant status of Haitians is inherently tied to structural racism and discrimination in many countries in the hemisphere.

Not only in the United States, but in Brazil or Chile where migrants were also displaced, for a second time. Their condition of being migrants and refugees is twofold.

And where does this leave governments, from an ethical point of view, after having ignored the vulnerable condition of Afro-descendant migrants?

Behind all this are structures of inequality that double or triple the vulnerability of migrants of African descent.

It is surprising that Haitians are discriminated against in Brazil, a country whose half of the population is Afro-descendant. But they have also been so because of their vulnerable condition and because they do not speak Portuguese or are Brazilian.

And that shows how deeply ingrained these structures of racism and discrimination are throughout the Western Hemisphere (America).

Structural racism is behind the invisibility of Haitian migrants and the attempt by many countries to push them out as quickly as possible.



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