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129 deportees arrive in Haiti amid coronavirus concerns

PORT-AU-PRINCE – A plane carrying 129 migrants who were deported from the U.S. landed Thursday in Haiti amid concerns that the second such flight this month could strain the impoverished country’s limited resources as it fights the COVID-19 disease.

Authorities whisked the group away in buses and took them to a hotel in the capital of Port-au-Prince, where they joined more than 60 other recent deportees already serving a two-week quarantine.

Three of the migrants who arrived in early April have tested positive for COVID-19, although so far none in the group that departed San Antonio, Texas on Thursday has a temperature, said Jean Negot Bonheur Delva, director of Haiti’s migration office. The newest group includes 50 children from ages ranging 5 to 15, he told The Associated Press.

The World Health Organization is providing Haiti with free testing kits, although the local government is paying for three meals a day and the deportees’ two-week stay at hotels including one in the north coastal town of Cap-Haïtien, where nearly 400 migrants are under quarantine after being expelled from the nearby Turks & Caicos Islands.

Bonheur declined to say how much the situation is costing the government as a Miami-based Haitian rights advocacy group called on President Jovenel Moïse to stop accepting deportees and ask that U.S. President Donald Trump place a moratorium on deportations.

“These flights do not only put the deported individuals at risk, but they also threaten to spread the coronavirus in Haiti, a country as you know all too well is ill-equipped to deal with a pandemic,” wrote Marleine Bastien, executive director of the Family Action Network Movement.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has said it has tested 425 detainees in custody as of April 21, a small fraction of the more than 32,000 in custody.

Government officials in Haiti did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe said earlier this week that the country is caring for the deportees.

“They are Haitians. They are coming home. We have to receive them,” he said in an interview Monday with Radio Vision 2000.

Haiti has reported at least four deaths and more than 60 confirmed new coronavirus cases. Among the infected is a young man who was among the deportees who arrived in early April and escaped earlier this week from the hotel where he was placed under quarantine.

Officials say the man hasn't been found. Keller Polynice, mayor of Ganthier, told AP that he erroneously told Radio Ginen earlier on Thursday that the man had been found in his community. Polynice said the man he had mentioned is a deportee but was released after testing negative for COVID-19.