SÃO PAULO – Brazil can expect to see more migrants coming from Haiti, following the social and political turmoil caused by President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination on July 7, says Father Paolo Parise, a São Paulo-based expert on migration.
Since 2010, when an earthquake devastated Haiti and killed more than 300,000 people, at least 130,000 migrants have left the country for Brazil. Over the past few years, the economic crisis in the South American country has been pushing a growing numbers of Haitians to leave Brazil and migrate to other destinations, especially the United States, Canada, and France.
“There’s a traditional migratory flux from Haiti caused by political instability, a low Human Development Index, and natural calamities. The rising violence is an additional ingredient and may intensify this movement,” said Parise, who coordinates Mission Peace, a Scalabrinian center that provides temporary shelter for immigrants and refugees.
Parise told Crux that domestic migration has already grown in Haiti, particularly from the violent capital city Port-au-Prince.
“With this situation, the external flux will probably escalate. There are already established migration networks and routes that will be used. Haitians living in Brazil tell me that it is safer here than in Haiti and will surely say so to their relatives and friends,” he said.
Haitian migrants usually travel to Central American countries and then go south, a route that includes a dangerous sea crossing in Panama and a journey through the forest of Colombia. Lately, they have been entering Brazil through border passages from Peru to Acre State, from Bolivia to Mato Grosso do Sul State, and from French Guyana to Amapá State.
According to Parise, 19,000 Haitians crossed into the country in 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the economic hardships in Brazil, leading to many Haitians becoming unemployed.
“We are distributing 1,500 food kits to Haitians every month. Many of them lost their homes and are now squatting in buildings,” Parise said.
Labor exploitation has also grown, the priest said. Part of the Haitian community had been employed in the meat processing industry in the south of Brazil, but many end up quitting due to the harsh conditions. Facing so many difficulties in the country, some of the migrants have preferred to seek new opportunities elsewhere.
“For a month I’ve been following a group of 25 Haitians who left São Paulo and are going to the United States. They have already reached Mexico,” he said.
Brazil became an important part of the Haitian migratory process for several reasons. Not only it is the largest economy south of the United States, but also it was in charge of the United Nations peace forces that operated in Haiti between 2004 and 2017.
“Unfortunately, the reports that we receive from Haiti concerning violence and instability make me think that the situation is now rather similar to the one the country had when the peace forces first arrived there,” Parise said.
According to Haitian-born Father Jean Dickson Saint-Claire, who directs a migrants’ house in in the city of Santo André, much of the current turbulence in the country was a product of Moïse’s erratic policies.
“As a leader, he has contributed to the erosion of Haitian institutions. He even wanted to change the constitution,” he said about the slain leader.
Saint-Claire said that his fellow countrymen – both in Haiti and in Brazil – were not surprised by the news of Moïse’s assassination.
“No killing should be celebrated, particularly the killing of a president. But it was somehow expected that something bad could happen,” he said.
Moïse’s maladministration, according to the priest, intensified poverty and created social chaos. Over the past months, pro and anti-government criminal gangs have been terrorizing the Haitian people, he added.
“Those armed bands have been driving everybody afraid. They perpetrate all kinds of crimes against civilians,” he said.
Saint-Clare argued that the president’s killing per se is not the starting point for a new migratory wave, considering that he did not have a considerable political following and his death will not generate a popular revolt.
“His administration did not improve the economy nor created social justice. He did not have too many allies, that could now be persecuted by other political groups. So, his death is not a landmark for any new trend,” he said.
However, he believes that more groups will demand asylum in the United States due to the assassination. On July 10, hundreds of people gathered in front of the U.S. embassy in Tabarre, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, seeking a humanitarian visa.
But the priest hypothesized Haitians might have a new chance now to find ways out of the crisis, as members of Moïse’s party and of the opposition have been discussing the future of the country in the wake of the president’s murder.
“It will depend on our political class. If it manages to establish a democratic discussion, peace may reemerge. Haiti is a great nation. Our poverty has been provoked by our governors’ choices,” Saint-Clare said.