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‘They treated us like animals’: Haitians angry and in despair at being deported from US | Global development

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When Evens Delva waded across the Rio Grande with his wife and two daughters, he had dreams of starting a new life in Florida. But less than a week later, he and his family stepped on to the tarmac in Port-au-Prince, the sweltering and chaotic capital of Haiti, with nothing except traumatic memories and a feeling of bubbling anger.

Delva, along with nearly 2,000 other Haitians, was deported from southern Texas this week to Haiti, despite having lived in Chile for the past six years and having few remaining connections to his home country. His younger daughter, who is four, does not hold Haitian citizenship, having been born in Chile, and speaks more Spanish than Haitian Creole.

“I don’t know what we’ll do, we don’t have anywhere to stay or anyone to call,” the 40-year-old said, moments after getting off the plane in the blistering midday Caribbean heat. “All I know is that this is the last place I want to be.”

Evens Delva and his wife at Port-au-Prince airport in Haiti on Friday after being deported from Texas
Evens Delva and his wife at Port-au-Prince airport in Haiti on Friday after being deported from Texas. Photograph: Joe Parkin Daniels/The Guardian

It is not hard to understand why. Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, is mired in overlapping crises. Gasoline shortages and blackouts are a daily reality, while warring gangs routinely kidnap for ransom and wage battle on the streets.

The grim situation only worsened when the president, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated in his home on 7 July, triggering a political power struggle and further instability and street violence. On 14 August, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck the country’s poor southern peninsula, killing more than 2,200 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless.

The Biden administration’s decision to deport thousands of Haitians under such circumstances drew opprobrium around the world, and prompted the US envoy to Haiti to resign in protest. Haiti is “a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs in control of daily life”, he wrote in his resignation letter. “Surging migration to our borders will only grow as we add to Haiti’s unacceptable misery.”

Last week, the world was shocked by images of police officers on horseback charging at desperate Haitian migrants near a camp of 12,000, set up under the Del Río-Ciudad Acuña International Bridge. Delva was on his way to buy food and water for his family when the cavalry charge sent him and dozens of his compatriots running in a frenzy.

“We were rounded up like cattle and shackled like criminals,” he said, having spent the six-hour flight from San Antonio with his hands and legs tied.

“They treated us like animals,” added Maria, his wife.. “We’ll never forget how that felt.”

Migrants, many from Haiti, at the encampment in Del Rio, Texas
Migrants, many from Haiti, at the encampment in Del Rio, Texas, last Tuesday. Photograph: Julio Cortez/AP

US authorities were so slapdash in their rapid deportation of the migrants that they also swept up an Angolan man who had never set foot in Haiti. “I told them I am not Haitian,” said Belone Mpembele, as he emerged, dazed, from the terminal. “But they didn’t listen.”

Outside the airport a few dozen deported Haitians were waiting, restless and angry, for any help. “Screw Biden!” one deportee shouted as a fight broke out between two motorcycle taxi drivers jostling for clients and plumes of white, rancid smoke billowed from a nearby pile of burning rubbish.

New arrivals each received about $50 in cash as well a hygiene kit including toilet paper, soap and toothbrushes, emblazoned with the USAID logo and slogan: “A gift from the American people.”

“This is my country and I’m not scared of it, but there’s no future here, even if you want to work,” said Fanfan Clerveaux, who had been sleeping at a cousin’s house nearby since he arrived days ago. “But I don’t know why they had to deport us like that.”

The vast majority of those deported had been living in Chile and Brazil for several years following an earthquake in 2010 that levelled much of Port-au-Prince, killing more than 200,000 people and setting Haiti on a spiral of instability from which it has never recovered.

Those who reached South America set about making new lives, but when the coronavirus pandemic struck, it wiped out much of Latin America’s middle- and working-class jobs, and they were once again left in poverty.

Many Haitians decided to head for the US. The long route north exposes them to bandits, traffickers and immigration officials who prey on migrants. Perhaps the worst part of the journey is the dreaded Darién Gap, a lawless patch of mountainous jungle between Colombia and Panama. “The dead bodies, there are so just many dead bodies, and the rivers just ate people alive” said Delva. “And the thieves, just stealing from everyone.”

After the last flight of the day arrived, one young woman fought through a crowd of taxi drivers and broke down in tears when she saw her mother, who was separated from her in Texas. “You’re here!” Further back, a driver listened to radio news, hearing about another kidnapping in the capital, while the Delva family began piling into a battered hatchback.

“I don’t know if Biden knows what happened to us, but they treated us like private property,” Delva said. Despite the traumas of their long journey, he was certain of one thing: his family’s future was not in Haiti. “We’ll stay here for a month or so, then we’ll try to leave again.”

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Belgium goes into three-week ‘lockdown light’

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Belgium is to go into a three-week ‘lockdown light’, following a meeting of federal and regional governments on Friday (26 November).

“We have to admit that we have been ambushed by the virus and that the situation is much more serious than we saw a few weeks ago”, Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo told a lunchtime press conference.

De Croo added that “the pressure on our hospitals is seriously increasing and that the situation is not tenable. We have to action now.”

The Belgian concertation committee of federal and regional governments decided that social life will be restricted in a variety of ways for the next three weeks.

Nightclubs will be closed, and indoor concerts where people are not seated will be cancelled. This measure will go into effect on Monday (29 November).

Bars, restaurants and night-shops will need to close their doors at 11PM. The number of people on one table in restaurants will be restricted to six, except for families larger than six. These measures will go into effect on Saturday (27 November).

Private parties will be forbidden, with an exception for weddings and funerals. However, it is still allowed to have guests at home.

At work and school, on the other hand, there are no upgraded restrictions. The last committee decided that teleworking is mandatory four days a week, and that people can only go to the office one day a week.

Schools will remain open, as will universities.

De Croo reiterated that these “measures will only makes sense if everyone follows them.”

The committee decided to accelerate the vaccination campaign. Regional governments will organise test centres where people can get tested for free.

The committee decided to meet urgently after hospitals and doctors said they could no longer handle the situation. From 16 to 22 November, on average 16,100 people tested positive for Covid daily. On 22 November that number was already 25,365 .

Currently, 669 intensive-care beds are filled with Covid patients, well over the emergency threshold of 500, and in the worst-case scenario, 1,250 intensive-care beds, a maximum capacity, would be filled by Christmas.

Belgium has not been able to organise roll-out of the booster jab in time to prevent the fourth wave. De Croo announced that on Saturday (27 November) a plan will be made to accelerate the booster jab for every adult.

Before the Belgian governments met, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced the bloc will take the initiative to block all air travels from Southern Africa, where a new variant of Covid-19 has been found.

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Interpol’s president: alleged torturer rises as symbol of UAE soft power | Global development

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Maj Gen Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi’s ascent through the ranks of the interior ministry in Abu Dhabi is associated with the United Arab Emirates’ transformation into a hi-tech surveillance state.

His personal achievements include a diploma in police management from the University of Cambridge, a doctorate in policing, security and community safety from London Metropolitan University and a medal of honour from Italy.

Now, in a big soft-power win for the UAE and its attempt to legitimise its policing methods internationally, he has been elected the president of the global policing organisation Interpol – to the dismay of human rights defenders.

Often photographed smiling, Raisi is the longstanding inspector general for the interior ministry, responsible for the supervision of detention centres and policing. Multiple former detainees accuse him of using this position to green-light abuses, including torture.

“Raisi’s rise to the Interpol presidency legitimises the role and conduct of security forces in the UAE,” said Matthew Hedges, a British academic and expert on the Emirates who was detained there for seven months on espionage charges. Hedges, who was eventually pardoned, says Raisi was responsible for his arrest and also oversaw the torture he says he suffered in detention.

“This translates to a green light for states to continue acting in a way that abuses accountability and human rights, legitimises the dilution of rule of law and emboldens authoritative and abusive systems of detention,” Hedges said. “This is really a warning to the international community that cross-border abuses can and will occur.”

The Gulf state has previously said Hedges was not subjected to any physical or psychological mistreatment during his detention. On Thursday its interior ministry heralded Raisi’s win as “recognition of the vital role of the UAE all over the world”.

“The UAE,” it said, “is now at the helm of this international organisation working in the fields of security and policing and will do its best to make the world a safer place.”

In an unusually public campaign for the role, Raisi boasted of technological transformations that overhauled policing and surveillance in the UAE. These included the introduction of iris and facial scanning technology, and the creation of the interior ministry’s first “general directorate of happiness”.

His domestic policing changes underpin Abu Dhabi and Dubai’s status as two of the world’s most surveilled cities. One system, called Falcon Eye, deploys thousands of cameras to monitor not just traffic violations but also “behavioural issues like public hygiene and incidents like people gathering in areas where they are not allowed to”, according to a report by the state news agency WAM.

The rise in surveillance has been accompanied by a crackdown on domestic criticism and dissent. Human Rights Watch has said: “The government’s pervasive domestic surveillance has led to extensive self-censorship by UAE residents and UAE-based institutions; and stonewalling, censorship, and possible surveillance of the news media by the government.”

Abdullah Alaoudh, from the Washington DC organisation Democracy for the Arab World Now, said the UAE had been applying a two-pronged approach epitomised by Raisi’s Interpol win: “Cracking down hard on every voice of dissent, while investing in public relations like lobbying, soft power, sports and entertainment.”

Christopher M Davidson, the author of a book on statecraft in the Middle East, described Raisi as an example of “high-performing technocratic members of UAE political society” who had found success under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

“The key to the regime of Mohammed bin Zayed has been to get things done, to stamp out corruption. Despite all criticisms levelled at the UAE and Abu Dhabi today, it is a far less corrupt place than it was 15 years ago. These were the people entrusted to clean up ministries,” said Davidson.

Stamping out corruption has, at times, included arresting the wealthy and critics. Khadem al-Qubaisi, a former adviser to the royal family and a businessman who said he was “scapegoated” by the Abu Dhabi authorities for embezzling millions, is detained in Al Wathba prison. The prison, overseen by Raisi, also holds the human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor.

Riyaadh Ebrahim, who spent more than a year in the prison, said he witnessed torture there. “There is wrongful imprisonment, no application of the rule of law. People are being persecuted for crimes they did not commit,” Ebrahim said. He said he was “totally appalled” by Raisi’s victory in the Interpol election race.

Davidson said the UAE was using its wealth and resources to buy reputational shortcuts on the international stage.

“Policing in the UAE still has its problems, but this is a way of saying to the world that [they] are credible and respectable,” he said. “Obtaining the presidency of Interpol symbolises moving in the right direction.”

Jalel Harchaoui from the Geneva-based organisation the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime said Raisi’s election highlighted the struggle between liberal and illiberal nations within international institutions such as Interpol, and was a victory for anti-democratic countries.

“On the surface, Abu Dhabi – thanks to excellent soft-power outreach – markets itself as a modern state, which happens to be a dependable friend to all the major western democracies,” he said. “In reality however, the Emiratis, whose governance style has been partly inspired by China’s strict form of authoritarianism, always campaign against liberalism and its key principles.”

A spokesperson for the UAE embassy in London did not respond to a request for comment.

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France reminds Poland on law in Paris meeting

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French president Emmanuel Macron urged Polish president Mateusz Morawiecki to solve a rule-of-law dispute with the EU, while voicing solidarity on the Belarus migration crisis, in a meeting in Paris on Wednesday. Poland should “find a solution that safeguards the core values of the European Union”, Macron’s office said. Russian president Vladimir Putin told EU Council president Charles Michel by phone extra EU sanctions on Belarus would be “counterproductive”.

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