Haiti reported its first two positive COVID-19 cases on 20 March 2020. As a response, the government implemented policies such as the closing of airports, ports, schools, and factories, limits on gatherings, and a curfew. The shared border with the Dominican Republic (DR) was also officially closed, yet border crossings persisted in practice and were recorded by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). They report that from 17 March 2020 to 30 November 2020, 602,352 cumulative movements were recorded into Haiti from the DR and 389,645 movements out of Haiti into the DR.
Haiti reportedly has one of the most overcrowded prison systems in the world, with around two thirds of the prison population being in pretrial detention. According to the National Human Rights Network, prisons may house around 80 people in small rooms where 10 to 20 people should be living under normal circumstances. The rooms tend to have poor ventilation, there have reportedly been mask shortages for staff, and prisoners are often not allowed to leave their rooms due to staff shortages. In April 2020, the director of the National Prison System began to decongest prisons by preparing a list of prisoners to be released to the Justice Ministry. According to the Miami Herald, with international pressure from the United Nations and the United States building up, the country released 459 prisoners from 19 March to 15 April 2020. By the end of May 2020, some 800 had reportedly been released in total. The National Human Rights Network considered these insufficient, since the prison population was over 11,000 at the time. In mid-May 2020, the first cases of COVID-19 were recorded in the Port-au-Prince penitentiary, with 11 out of 12 tested individuals being positive. Subsequently, they were kept away from the rest of the prison population. However, there was a lack of further testing within the prison, where dozens of people reported symptoms. On 28 May, a 72-year old man with COVID-19 symptoms died without having been tested.
It is unclear to what degree non-citizens are detained in Haitian prisons, and whether anyone is detained for purely immigration-related reasons. Due to its several political, economic, and environmental crises in the last decades, Haiti has long been a critical country of origin in the Caribbean, which has experienced successive waves of refugees and migrants, many heading to the United States. Haiti hosts a very small number of refugees and asylum seekers, with no more than five in any given year since 2015, who come from Cuba, Ethiopia, Yemen, and Nigeria.
- France24, “Haiti’s crowded prisons a coronavirus catastrophe waiting to happen,” 8 April 2020, https://www.france24.com/en/20200408-haiti-s-crowded-prisons-a-coronavirus-catastrophe-waiting-to-happen
- France24, “Coronavirus detected in Haiti’s largest prison,” 22 May 2020, https://www.france24.com/en/20200521-coronavirus-detected-in-haiti-s-largest-prison
- E. Sanon and D. Coto, “Strikes, violence overwhelm Haiti’s crumbling judiciary,” StartTribune, 28 January 2021, https://www.startribune.com/strikes-violence-overwhelm-haitis-crumbling-judiciary/600016032/
- IOM, “Haiti: COVID-19 Border Monitoring, Bi-Monthly Sitrep 28,” 30 November 2020, https://haiti.iom.int/sites/default/files/documents_files/IOM_Flow%20Monitoring_COVID-19_Bi-Monthly%20SitRep%20No.%2028.pdf
- IOM, “Tracé des Migrants,” 31 December 2020, https://haiti.iom.int/sites/default/files/documents_files/IOM_Migrant%20Tracing_Rd%208_31%20December.pdf
- J. Charles, “COVID-19 has reached Haiti’s overcrowded prisons. Some fear a human rights disaster,” Miami Herald, 27 May 2020, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article243018516.html
- J.D. Sénat, “Coronavirus : deux décès suspects au pénitencier national,” Le Nouvelliste, 1 June 2020, https://lenouvelliste.com/article/216828/coronavirus-deux-deces-suspects-au-penitencier-national
- UNHCR, “Refugee Data Finder,” https://www.unhcr.org/refugee-statistics/download/?url=VFPe8t