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Haiti’s Humanitarian Crisis Escalation and the Domino Effect in Latin America

Hannah Hains | Latin America Fellow

Man stands in front of burning barricade in Haiti during protest. Image credit: Carlin Trezil via Unsplash.

In the aftermath of the presidential assassination on 7 July 2021, Haiti’s long-standing crisis descended into a “low-intensity civil war”, with protests and attacks an almost daily occurrence. No official elections have been held since 2016, violent protests in response to fuel prices have killed and injured many, multiple earthquakes have destroyed infrastructure, and violent gangs have increased in strength. As of 2024, the already considerable internal crisis in Haiti has plunged into further despair, threatening to displace innumerable citizens, with over 1,100 people killed, injured, or kidnapped in January alone. In a region already facing a migrant crisis due to large numbers of citizens fleeing Venezuela, the recent escalation in Haiti will greatly impact Latin America. With other countries calling for foreign peacekeeping missions in Haiti, efforts must shift to supporting Haitians through cultural integration and self-determination. 

Historical Context and the Recent Crisis Escalation

Many Haitians are against foreign intervention due to the country’s colonial history and previously unsuccessful UN peacekeeping missions. Some citizens have formed gangs in an attempt to take matters into their own hands, vigilante groups which have sought to weaken government institutions and overthrow those in power. In February, former Prime Minister Ariel Henry travelled to Kenya to meet with the United Nations Security Council and coordinate support from Kenyan police for peacekeeping in Haiti. This controversial move caused gangs to wreak havoc in protest of further foreign intervention. Led by rebel leader Jimmy Chérizier, gangs stormed a prison and freed an estimated 4000 inmates in order to overwhelm police, stating their intentions were to appoint a new head of state. Pressure from gangs proved successful when Henry resigned as Prime Minister in March. With conflict worsening, more Haitians are likely to seek refuge in neighbouring countries and beyond. 

Map of the Caribbean Sea and its islands. Image credit: Kmusser via Wikimedia Commons.

The Domino Effect  

Latin America is currently overwhelmed with refugees and migrants from Venezuela, with an outflow of over 7.7 million worldwide as at August 2023. 6.4 million are living within Latin America, yet many are choosing to risk their lives and cross the Mexico-US border due to xenophobia and lack of opportunity within the region. Increasing tensions between Venezuelan refugees and their host countries has led to some countries, such as Chile, to strengthen anti-migrant measures. It has also caused xenophobic sentiment to grow and has divided political opinion across the region. The arrival of more Haitians in the midst of current tensions will have a compounding effect unless effective measures are put in place.


Many neighbouring countries have called for international intervention and backed Kenya’s peacekeeping arrangement. Brazil’s president Lula de Silva urged for quick intervention to prevent further suffering of the civilian population. Brazil was involved in a controversial peacekeeping mission in Haiti that lasted over ten years. The Brazilian Government cite this mission as having forged a “special relationship” between the countries which is a motive to accept Haitians as immigrants.    


Despite regional expressions of solidarity with the humanitarian situation in Haiti, Haitian immigrants and refugees are not always welcomed with open arms. Being one of the few countries in Latin America for which Spanish is not a national language and that has a predominantly black population, reports of racism and xenophobia from host countries towards Haitians are not uncommon. Brazil has argued that Haitians are not refugees, since many migrated following a major earthquake in 2010, neglecting to mention ongoing political instability. This contradiction of their self-proclaimed “special relationship” by refusing to class Haitians as refugees fails to protect them from the threat of deportation, and ultimately weaponises their previous peacekeeping attempts as a debt that Haitians owe. Furthermore, many families are often separated by the migration process, often with not all family members being granted the same visa. 


Deportation of Haitians has occurred frequently in the neighbouring Dominican Republic, the two countries sharing the island of Hispaniola. More than 120,000 deportations were carried out between November 2022 and August 2023, including nearly 6,500 children. Racial profiling is reportedly used to identify Haitians by Dominican authorities, and many incidents of unwarranted arrests, abuse, and degrading treatment towards Haitians have been witnessed.

The Dominican government has often failed to acknowledge the economic contribution of Haitians and, like Brazil, does not provide them with refugee status. Increased immigration is likely to catalyse deportations if other safeguards are not put in place to ensure social cohesion and integration. Furthermore, the separation of families may increase illegal immigration in efforts for families to be reunited. Refugee status is necessary to ensure a more peaceful integration of Haitians into the host countries by eliminating insecurity and instability. It also recognises the severity of the situation in Haiti, which may shift perceptions of how locals perceive newcomers to prompt support in lieu of discrimination. 


The region cannot pin hopes on foreign intervention to resolve the crisis in Haiti given its long-term complexity and severity. With many countries already struggling with tensions linked to Venezuelan migration, it is in their best interest to assist Haitian refugees and immigrants with cultural integration if they are to be granted asylum. Appropriate cultural and language support may help disperse racism, xenophobia, and cultural barriers. Though some countries have endorsed foreign intervention, this has often been a source of conflict in Haiti, creating further resistance from both gangs and citizens alike. Instead, countries must support Haitians in appropriate resettlement and in their calls for refuge and justice. 

Hannah Hains is the Latin America Fellow for Young Australians in International Affairs. She recently completed her Bachelor of International Relations from The University of Adelaide and looks forward to undertaking postgraduate study in the future and investigating grassroots movements in Latin America.


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