Migrant smuggling, a lucrative business in Haiti
Port-au-Prince.- Migrant trafficking in Haiti has evolved into a profitable enterprise facilitated by various actors from Haiti and abroad, according to a report by a panel of experts from the United Nations Organizations (UN) who recently visited the country.
The report reveals that individuals involved in migrant smuggling include human traffickers, corrupt passport and visa officials, immigration officers, travel agents, charter flight operators, and boat manufacturers. The panel conducted investigations in Mexico, the United States, the Dominican Republic, and Port-de-Paix, Haiti, to assess the impact of the Haitian crisis on migrants and refugees. They engaged with Haitian migrants, members of the diaspora, government officials, international organizations, and local NGOs to gather insights.
During their visit to Port-de-Paix, the panel observed makeshift shipyards where vessels were being constructed to transport migrants to the Bahamas and the United States. These boats cost between $25,000 and $50,000 to build and typically carry around 20 people. However, they are often overloaded with up to 80 or even 100 passengers, resulting in inhumane conditions and an increased risk of capsizing.
The report states that the cost per passenger ranges from $1,000 to $3,000, and the journey to the United States can take up to a week if successful. Haitian migrants face discrimination and xenophobia in the region due to their ethnicity, language, and undocumented status.
The panel also highlighted the issue of sexual and gender-based violence in Haiti, which is deeply rooted in a systemic structure of patriarchy and inequality. It affects women’s access to education, economic opportunities, and participation in government, and is based on cultural norms and a history of male dominance. While women and girls are the primary victims, children and young people also suffer from such violence, albeit to a lesser extent.
The report reveals that the majority of sexual and gender-based violence cases in Haiti go unreported due to stigma, fear of reprisals, and limited access to essential services. The lack of the rule of law and widespread impunity further exacerbate the problem. While there is difficulty in obtaining accurate data on rape incidents, local organizations report dozens of cases each month, contrasting with lower figures provided by the national police anti-crime unit.
The panel encountered harrowing stories of sexual violence victims, including gang rapes, individual assaults, and attacks on members of the LGBTQI+ community. Many victims have suffered physical and emotional trauma, and the prevailing climate of insecurity and impunity contributes to the persistence of these crimes.
The report highlights the urgent need for comprehensive support systems, improved access to essential services, and efforts to combat the prevailing culture of impunity in Haiti.