By Daina Beth Solomon
CIUDAD ACUNA, Mexico (Reuters) – Mexico and the United States were on Wednesday preparing to fly more Haitian migrants away from chaotic U.S.-Mexico border camps, as pressure mounted on U.S. President Joe Biden to stop expulsions of Haitians to their poor, disaster-hit homeland.
U.S. authorities have deported more than 500 Haitians since Sunday from a camp housing thousands of mostly Haitian migrants on the U.S. side of border, by the small Texan city of Del Rio.
Such deportation flights back to Haiti would continue, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said.
At the same time, Mexico has begun flying migrants away from the U.S. border, as well as sending some by bus, towards its border with Guatemala in the south.
U.S. politicians have criticized Biden’s handling of the situation with some opponents calling it a “disaster.”
U.S. authorities have ordered an investigation into an incident in which mounted U.S. border agents used their reins like whips to intimidate migrants trying to cross the Rio Grande border river.
Photographs of the incident sparked anger and the Biden administration said the agents had been pulled from front-line duties.
The deportations came amid profound instability in the Caribbean nation, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, where a presidential assassination, rising gang violence and a major earthquake have spread chaos in recent weeks.
Filippo Grandi, the head of the U.N refugee agency, has warned that U.S. expulsions to such a volatile situation might violate international law.
Hundreds of the migrants have also gathered on the Mexican side by Ciudad Acuna, across from Del Rio. The migrants crossed back over the Rio Grande, to retreat from the U.S. camp because of shortages of food and poor conditions there.
On Tuesday, after talks with Haitian government representatives, Mexico said repatriation flights would be offered to those “who wish to return to their country”.
While reports abound of Haitians across Latin America heading towards the United States, some are having second thoughts.
In Ciudad Acuna, Haitian migrant Maurival Makenson, 31, said his older sister was making her way to the border from Colombia but he was trying to persuade her to turn back.
“I tell her it’s difficult to get papers, there’s deportation,” he said.
Some of the deported Haitian migrants on Tuesday reacted angrily as they stepped off flights in Port-au-Prince after spending thousands of dollars on arduous voyages from the troubled Caribbean nation via South America hoping for a better life in the United States.
Some 130 people have traveled on Mexican flights to the southern Mexican city of Villahermosa, and another 130 people to the city of Tapachula on the Guatemala border, a Mexican government official said.
On Tuesday evening, officers from Mexico’s national migration institute (INM) entered two budget hotels on a small street in Ciudad Acuna and escorted about two dozen migrants, including toddlers, onto vans.
One woman, speaking from behind a partition, told Reuters she did not know where they were being taken.
(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Drazen Jorgic, Robert Birsel)