A Haiti presidential panel charged with advising the government on how to manage the coronavirus pandemic is calling for the suspension of U.S. deportations of Haitian nationals until the deadly contagion is controlled.
The group — made up mostly of doctors and medical experts hand-picked by Haitian President Jovenel Moise to advise him on steps to control the virus spread in Haiti — is also asking for a ban on any returnee who has not been tested for COVID-19.
“Transporting people potentially infected with SARS COV2 in an aircraft represents a high risk of contamination for all passengers including the crew,” the letter said. “Persons coming from these territories must be placed in quarantine and tested for COVID-19. This results in the use of human and material resources already limited in Haiti, especially in the health emergency context.”
The Haitian government, the group said in a list of recommendations sent to Haitian Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe on Sunday, should enter into talks with the Trump administration to reach an agreement.
The recommendations, obtained by the Miami Herald, come hours before an Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportation flight is scheduled to depart Alexandria, La., with another group of deportees to Haiti early Monday and as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 see double-digit increases almost daily in Haiti.
An initial flight manifest, also obtained by the Herald, had 101 detainees listed — including former death squad leader Emmanuel “Toto” Constant, 50 individuals with criminal backgrounds and at least five detainees who had tested positive for COVID-19.
Haitian authorities said they had been told by ICE that all deportees would be tested 72 hours before being flown to Port-au-Prince. But when the Herald checked with the wife of at least one of the deportees, Stephan Etienne, who had twice tested positive, he still had not been tested as of Saturday, she said.
On Sunday, Melissa Furtardo said it appeared that her husband, who is being held at the Pine Prairie Correctional Center in Pine Prairie, La., was not among some of the COVID-19-positive detainees who had been relocated to Alexandria, the staging ground for the deportation flight’s departure.
As of Friday, 788 ICE detainees who have been administered a COVID-19 test had tested positive for the virus, data shows. It’s unclear who among the Haitian detainees on Monday’s flight was in that group. ICE does not provide that information.
ICE previously said it would test foreign nationals before they departed, but also implied that not all might get the tests because of limited testing kits. In Guatemala, a deportee who came with paperwork saying he was negative for the infection turned up positive, according to The Associated Press.
On Sunday, Haiti’s Ministry of Public Health and Population said it had registered 182 confirmed cases, an additional 31 cases from the previous day and three additional deaths for a tally of 15 people killed as a result of the COVID-19 infection. The 8.2 per cent death rate is one of the highest in the Caribbean region.
The Haiti panel, known as the “Scientific Unit,” makes several arguments on why deportation flights to Haiti should be put on hold.
The most prominent is that “the deportation of people in detention in U.S. prisons poses a high risk for the introduction of strains of the SARS COV2 virus in the national territory,” meaning Haiti.
The deportation flights, which began last month, are also a financial strain on Haiti’s meagre resources. Facilities that should be used to quarantine Haitians, who live in confined spaces that are often just one room, are now having to be used for deportees every two weeks. Currently there are only 111 beds available in four facilities located in the capital of Port-au-Prince to quarantine COVID-19 cases or those suspected of it for 14 days, the incubation period.
Haiti registered its first positive COVID-19 case on March 19.
The Pan American Health Organization has warned that Haiti is in for a deeper crisis because of the outbreak of the virus, and the onslaught of an expected 55,000 Haitians from the Dominican Republic, where there are more than 9,000 cases, will further strain Haiti’s weak health system’s ability to cope.
This is the second time that the Scientific Unit is asking for a halt in flights. But this time it has put the recommendations in writing following similar calls by U.S. lawmakers, immigration advocates, Doctors Without Borders and award-winning author Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat.
In an editorial published in the Herald on Sunday, Danticat said “with these ongoing deportations, the Trump administration, the Department of Homeland Security and ICE, are not just endangering the lives of the men, women and children on these flights, they are also potentially condemning entire communities to death.”
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In the Scientific Unit’s letter obtained by the Miami Herald they went on to list the reasons for their conclusion beginning with the fact the U.S is now the epicentre of COVID-19 cases with 1.63 million cases and 80,562 deaths and screening in detention facilities are not done “systematically.”
“Transporting people potentially infected with SARS COV2 in an aircraft represents a high risk of contamination for all passengers including the crew,” the letter said.
“Persons coming from these territories must be placed in quarantine and tested for COVID-19. This will result in the use of human and material resources already limited in Haiti, especially in the health emergency context.”