Haitians Flood to Nicaragua in New Migration Surge Aiming for U.S. Border

Photo of author

By LatAm Reports Editor

Haitians are flocking to Port-au-Prince’s Toussaint Louverture International Airport, echoing the migration surge of 2017, but with a new destination: Nicaragua. Since August, tens of thousands of Haitians have sought passage to Nicaragua, aiming for the U.S. later, and are willing to pay over $3,500 for the trip.

Outside the departure terminal of Haiti’s embattled capital’s airport, hundreds eagerly await their flights to Nicaragua. Conversations reveal the tough journey to the U.S.-Mexico border after landing in Nicaragua’s capital. Here, intermediaries offer further passage.

Before, Central America-bound migrants, especially Haitians, would get stuck in Costa Rica due to Nicaraguan entry restrictions. However, Nicaragua has since opened its doors, and President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo, are facilitating travel agents and charter airlines to transport Haitians from Port-au-Prince to Managua.

Manuel Orozco from the Inter-American Dialogue claims that Ortega is manipulating migration for foreign-policy purposes. Arturo McFields Yescas, Ortega’s ex-ambassador to the OAS, accuses Ortega of using migrants to negotiate lifting U.S. sanctions against his regime. McFields claims this isn’t accidental but a deliberate strategy.

Since the charter flights began in August, more than 20,000 individuals have made the trip, with numbers from Orozco’s database suggesting over 31,400 Haitians boarded 268 flights by October. The flight frequency has also increased.

Haitians, alongside Cubans, are increasingly choosing flights into Nicaragua. Gang violence, economic decline, and prolonged waiting periods for Biden’s new travel program have pushed Haitians to this route. African migrants are also using Central American airports, opting for the Nicaraguan route over the perilous Darién Gap.

This Nicaraguan route has risen amid concerns of increasing migration and tensions between the U.S. and Mexico. Since 2020, the influx at the U.S.-Mexico border has more than doubled. A migration summit hosted by Mexico’s president saw participation from various leaders, but Nicaragua opted out. Biden will also hold an immigration summit, but neither Haiti nor Nicaragua received invitations.

Biden’s administration had initially overlooked the Haitian influx. They had previously launched a program in January aiming to reduce undocumented migration from various countries, including Haiti. The U.S. State Department voiced concerns over the safety of migrants and condemned the exploitation of their desperation.