You are lucky, US officials said. “You’re going to see your family.”
Officials called numbers related to raffle-like stamps issued to Haitians when they were detained after crossing the border into Texas, as did each number called, another bedraggled immigrant. was standing.
“Everyone was happy,” recalled Jhon Celestin. “But I wasn’t happy. I saw it was a lie.”
The prize was a one-way journey back to the place they wanted to escape. And so it was that Celestin arrived in Haiti on a last flight Wednesday to the capital of Port-au-Prince, the 38-year-old who left three years ago in search of a better-paying job to help support his family.
He is among 2,000 migrants the US has deported to Haiti via more than 17 flights this week, with more scheduled in the coming days. Staying in Haiti is not an option for many of them. Like Celestin, they plan to flee their country again as soon as possible.
As Celestine left the airport and stepped onto the dust and smoke-laden streets, the drizzle had stopped, carrying a bag in one hand and her 2-year-old daughter in the other.
Chile-born Chloe looked around quietly in her new surroundings as Celestin and his wife asked to borrow someone’s phone to call a taxi. It would be more expensive, but they didn’t want their child to ride a motorcycle – a common mode of transportation in the city where vehicles have to move around smoldering garbage dumps, heavy traffic and sometimes burning barricades.
After a 35-minute ride, they arrive at a house whose basement they will share with a cousin who had been evicted from America the day before. The house is located a few blocks away from where 15 people, including a journalist and political activist, were killed in a shootout in June. A police officer is also among the accused.
“It’s not what I imagined, being here,” said Celestin’s wife, 26-year-old Delta de Leon, who was born in the Dominican Republic to a Dominican father and a Haitian mother. “But here I am, although I hope to leave soon because the one thing I have never wished for my daughter is that she grows up here.”
Haiti has over 11 million people; About 60% make less than $2 a day. The cornerstone of its economy is Haitian money living abroad – $3.8 billion a year, or 35% of the country’s GDP.
The migrants returning to Haiti are more violent, poorer and more politically unstable than those left behind. It is struggling to recover from the July 7 assassination of President Jovanel Mosse and the August 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck southern Haiti, which killed more than 2,200 people and destroyed or damaged thousands of homes. Thousands of people live in illegal shelters after their homes were demolished in recent months as a result of mass violence.
Celestin and his wife do not plan to stay for long.
On his first day in Haiti, Celestin spent several hours in the queen-sized bed he shared with his wife and daughter. As he was planning to visit his family, he spoke on the phone with his sister living in Chile and friends elsewhere. He stopped only to get a haircut and to figure out how to transfer the money, as he had previously sent all his identity documents to his family in Miami in the hope that he would be reunited with them this month.
The new plan is to return to Chile, where he built houses as a construction worker after obtaining a visa. With the pandemic drying up jobs and freezing the economy, the family decided to try their luck at the US-Mexico border, traveling almost a month by night on foot, bus and boat.
“The thing that hurt me the most, the thing that frustrated me the most were the people I saw,” said de Leon, the migrants who died on the way.
The toll of that trip, the conditions at the border and the recent deportation flight with a sick child—Chloe had a persistent cough while the family camped under a Texas bridge—meant that De Leon spent much of her first night. Haiti did not sleep.
“I cried because I don’t want to be here,” she said.
De León intends to cross the border with her daughter into the Dominican Republic so that she can be reunited with her father, sister and brother, while her husband flies to Chile.
But first, the family planned to go to the coastal city of Jacmel in southern Haiti to see more relatives, a risky journey as it would cross gang-controlled territory. Buses often convoy for safety, and sometimes pay gangs for safer passage. Violence in that locality has reached such a height that Doctors Without Borders recently closed their clinic there after 15 years.
That first morning breakfast in Haiti consisted of pieces of spaghetti and avocado. Normally, Chloe would have milk and fruit, but de Leon said she was waiting for a money transfer to buy some basic food items. She was worried about her daughter’s health and her future.
“The future I wish for him is a better life, a more comfortable life, the kind a poor person can give to his children,” she said. “If that life is to be in the United States, so be it. If it has to be in Chile, let it be in Chile. But let it be a better life.”
On their second day in Haiti, the couple decided to take a risk and move to Jacmel. A minibus waited when Celestin and De Leon grabbed their bags and put on the new shoes they’d bought earlier that morning: black and white sneakers for her, white sandals for her.
“No yellow!” Celestin’s cousin called him in Creole – “We’ll talk!” And while they were walking down the treacherous road to Jacmel, the couple boarded a minibus, placing their little girl among them.
Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Credit: www.independent.co.uk / Haiti