The Biden administration acknowledged Wednesday that it sent $5.5 million to Haiti to help support asylum-seekers deported from Del Rio, Texas, but it rejected reports that it had "paid" Haiti to take back the rejected migrants.
"That is not true," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in response to VOA's question about the reports, which had gone viral on Haitian social media. "We, of course, have been providing a broad range of humanitarian assistance."
A State Department spokesperson told VOA that the U.S. money would go to support a U.N. agency that is helping the 4,000 deportees through their first days back in Haiti.
"The United States is providing $5.5 million in assistance to support the reception of Haitian nationals returning to Haiti," the spokesperson said. "Administered by USAID, this assistance supports the International Organization for Migration's ongoing efforts to provide critical reception services for returned Haitian migrants in Port-au-Prince and Cap Haitien."
That assistance includes food, health care, psychological counseling, accommodations and hygiene kits.
"We are committed to continuing to provide assistance that supports and promotes stability, resilience, health and safety for Haitians at home," the spokesperson told VOA.
In Haiti, Prime Minister Ariel Henry went onto his official Primature Twitter account to deny persistent rumors that the money would be channeled through him.
"The primature official denies information circulating on social media saying that Prime Minister @DrArielHenry would have received from American authorities $5.5 million in assistance for the repatriated Haitians," he tweeted.
"The funds allocated by the American government were received and administered directly by #IOM for the benefit of the deportees," Henry added.
In an interview Tuesday with VOA, Giuseppe Loprete, the IOM's chief of mission in Haiti, said that as of Tuesday, cash payments to help the migrants restart their lives were being increased to about $120.
"It was $100 as of yesterday [Monday], but we are increasing it so we can help them to spend at least the first days here. There are many families — some have kids, as well, so this cash is really helpful for them to maybe not to start over their life but at least on arrival to buy the most urgent things," Loprete told VOA.
'Very dangerous' area
The security situation is a major concern, he said.
"The airport itself is in an area that after dark, it's very dangerous. ... We told all the authorities, 'Be careful not to be at the airport after 6 p.m.,' " he said.
Migrants cannot leave the airport after 7 p.m., Loprete said. If they find themselves stranded near the airport, IOM takes them to hotels, where they can spend the night. IOM returns in the morning, gives the migrants the cash, "and they go from there," he added.
The U.S. has deported about 4,000 Haitian migrants from the Texas-Mexico border, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said. On Wednesday, seven U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement flights landed in Haiti — four in Port-au-Prince and three in Cap Haitien.
VOA's Anita Powell and Nike Ching contributed to this report.