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Related Categories: International | Racial Justice
Middle Passage - Etihad´s Air Ways
by Jean Amazan
Wednesday Sep 9th, 2020 2:53 PM
I am reporting to your attention an unspeakable incident of urgent concern, that has obviously caused great harm to me and my family. It has now been 6 years and still feel aggrieved by the reckless treatment I endured in 2014 during the course of my Etihad Airways international flights. It is a terrible collection of memories to hold and it feels as if it has happened to me ``yesterday``.
I Believe, I Have a Story to Tell...
1. Background:

My name is Jean Amazan I was born in Port- au- Prince Haiti and I currently reside in Germany.

I studied Hospitality Management at BHMS, Business & Hotel Management School in Switzerland. In 2014, I tried to travel to Haiti to aid in reconstruction efforts towards rebuilding tourism areas destroyed by the 2010 earthquake. My goal was to help Haiti, the nation that gave me life and purpose.

However, my journey was anything but easy. What became an effort to help my homeland turned into a cycle of pain and abuse. My life at the mercy of others and my freedom being completely taken away from me at every turn. I became a victim of a system that saw me as a criminal, just by existing.

I left Switzerland voluntarily during the mandatory departure period:

It began in March 2014. At the time I visited Malaysia for medical treatment. While there, I received a Laissez-Passer from the Belgium consulate. This allowed me to travel through Brussels. On April 15, 2014, I took a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and started my journey to Saint-Domingue, Haiti.

2. Brussels – Unlawful Detention from April to June:

3. As soon as I arrived in Brussels, I encountered the first in a series of unfortunate, abusive, and traumatizing events. I was immediately approached by two Belgian Customs Agents. They asked for my documentation.

I knew I’d done nothing wrong and immediately handed over my wallet and all the documents I possessed. Within, they saw an expired Swiss residence permit and wanted to deport me back to Malaysia.

I informed them that I could not go back, because that was not where I resided. I only went to Malaysia for medical treatment. I gave the same information to Etihad Airline´s consulate of Abu Dhabi in Brussels. They intervened for me, but the result was not what I expected. I did not make it to my next flight.

“What are you doing out here?” One of the immigration agents asked me with a peculiar tone.

“What do you mean?” I responded. I was confused, but they gave me no explanation. Instead, I was taken to a secret location within the Brussels International Airport.

Within that room, I saw a dozen others like me, who seemed just as confused. We waited in a small cell to be interviewed, transported, and deported.

It took several hours of waiting before a DVZ agent (aka Belgium Immigration Department) finally greeted me.

“Alors! Mr. Amazan, you may come with me.” He said, in an almost excited tone.

I sat down in the office, still unsure of what he, what they wanted from me.

“Okay, tell me your story, you want to apply for asylum, right?” He asked.

“No. I was just waiting to board my next connecting flight to go to Saint-Domingue.” I responded.

“Okay, since you do not want to apply for asylum, we will take you back to your airline company (aka Etihad airways EY-57), and they will have to decide what to do with you next.

Etihad Airways informed the Embassy in Brussels (aka Abu Dhabi consulate) about their plan to take over policing functions, but it was in a rather unlawful manner.

Their actions led me to be transported, without my consent, hundreds of miles away. I was publicly humiliated and severely punished and beaten for offences I never committed. I was imprisoned in a Barracoon, commonly referred to as a segregation unit. Without a trial, jury, or any charges placed against me, I was held in five different transit camps, where I experienced all manners of bullying, rape, and abuse.

4. Transit Camp Le Caricole – Belgium:

On April 15, 2014, I was transported to Transit Camp Le Caricole, located next to the Brussels International Airport, which served as a prison hub for individuals expected to be deported. Coming here was a shock to me, the last thing the DVZ agent told me was that I wasn’t going to prison. However, this place didn’t feel very different.

Once I arrived there, the reception officer immediately took all my belongings, my phone, USB device, official documents, and my camera. It was all confiscated by the DVZ agents before I was stripped and searched. Still unsure of what crime, if any, that I’d committed.

Thereafter, the guards led me down a wing of the camp and introduced me to my cellmate. I still vividly remember that moment. He was a young man of color, sleeping under a thin, white blanket. As soon as I arrived, he awoke and sharply exclaimed, “I thought I had made it clear that I did not want a cellmate.”

It didn’t take long to realize that he was in a disturbed mental state. He was exhibiting clear signs of paranoia. As I resided in the prison-cell with him, I watched him chant every time a nearby plane landed or took off, “Devil suffer! In the name of my lord Savior! Christ Jesus! Jesus Christ! Amen!”

After just a few days of incarceration, my situation became far worse. My cellmate had reached the height of paranoia and mental instability. “Frankly, I am tired of living with people!” He shouted as he began pacing back and forth. He just couldn’t stay still.

“A family picture of mine went missing.” He said as he continued to pace. “I’m going to get it now!” With that I felt a sudden sensation that sent my head flying against the wall. He struck me. I felt blood falling from my face in thick droplets. I was face down on the floor. I crawled to my knees and went for the buzzer on my cell wall, desperately trying to get a guard to help me. “Officer! Officer!” I cried as loudly as I could.

The officers came quickly, but they didn’t help me. Instead, I was treated the same as my assailant. They threw me to the ground and put handcuffs on me. I didn’t receive medical attention, but instead they sent me to a segregated unit.

I was angry, isolated, I beat my hands against everything within my cell wall in frustration. I started a hunger strike as an act of resistance to this harsh treatment, this punishment for existing. But I was then transferred to the second transit camp, the Center for Illegal Migrants.

5. Transit Camp: The Centre for Illegal Migrants (CIM) – Merksplas:

My time at CIM, a maximum-security transit camp in Merksplas, Belgium, was far worse than anything I’d experienced before. During the time I spent there, I was raped, badly beaten by billiard sticks, and bullied relentlessly by two Russian speaking inmates over a game. I still remember the pain to this day.

I was afraid. I arrived at this camp with no criminal record, but I was surrounded by sex offenders, predators, and others who had committed serious crimes. I felt alone, like a small fish in a pool swarming with sharks. Nearly everyone I met there was a foreign offender, prisoners who reached the end of their sentence and were due to be deported.

I didn’t stay there long. Some inmates managed to escape from prison guards while being transported to a CIM prisoner’s worksite. Somehow, I was accused for helping them and it led to me being transferred to the third camp.

6. Transit Camp: The Centre for Illegal Migrants of Vottem (CIV) – Vottem:

On June 18, 2014 I was transferred to the CIV camp and placed in the French-speaking section. Immediately upon arrival, along with another inmate from CIM- Transit Camp, I was greeted by the security chief.. He immediately began interrogating us.

“Tell me about the escape in CIM jail. I need to know who comes to my prison.” He asked.

“Sorry sir, we know nothing about the prisoners escape in CIM.” We responded.

“Great! Ok then, you, you can go to your room.” He said to the other inmate. He then looked at me with a completely changed expression. “But you, you stay here. Listen to me young man, this here is my prison, you either tell me everything that you know about the prisoners’ escape in CIM prison or you’re going straight to the segregation unit and I’ll just leave you there.”

There I was, once again, locked up alone in a prison cell. The unit was smaller than the average parking space. There were no openings to the outside. Inside, all I had was a concrete bed, two sanitary holes, and a small iron-grilled window facing a cemented yard enclosed by concrete walls.

I was left in physical isolation for 23 out of 24 hours each day. My only company was the prison’s guard, who was nothing more than a bully.

Whenever he’d ask, I would say clearly, “Sir, I really don’t know anything about the CIM prisoners’ escape!”

In response, he’d return me back to my segregation cell and push the door against my face.

In turn, I decided to resume my hunger strike that I began while in Le Caricole prison. During the first few days of the strike, I felt extreme hunger pains, thirst, and light-headedness. In the second week, I refused all fluids until my lips were parched and cracked. The pain was unbearable, I couldn’t sit down, stand up, or walk straight. When trapped in that box, I felt I lost everything, I felt I lost my life.

7. Transit Camp: Centre-127 – Melsbroek:

While my health deteriorated, I was not taken to a hospital, but instead transferred to another transit camp. This was Centre 127. I was far too sick to travel and chose to end my hunger strike then and there. There was a glimmer of hope. My return flight to Haiti would be within the next 48 hours.

8. Learning the Truth of My Detainment:

I faced the same issue. I tried to explain to the DVZ, the airline companies, and the Abu Dhabi consulate that I could not be returned to Haiti as a deportee. Returning under that premise would lead Haitian police and society to see me as a “high risk” individual and a delinquent with a dangerous attitude. These aspects would lead me to living in Haiti in a vulnerable situation and degrading living conditions.

Nevertheless, I was accompanied by four Belgian agents from Belgium, Holland, and Panama to Haiti. These were special agents who accompanied me through the “Middle Passage.”

The leader of these agents told me that he was a retired Lt. Colonel and that Etihad Airways paid for everything to make sure their “mission succeeded.”

My lawyer told me something that shocked me to my core. “Yes, Etihad Airways paid 186.00 €, each day for me to be held captive in CIM-prison. And yes, that cost of 186.00 €, excludes any Etihad Airline´s additional payments for all of other Transit Camps, flights and transportations from Transit Camps to Transit Camps, and to International Airports.”

Everything I experienced, the entire enterprise of dehumanization I went through was planned and carried out with the approval and knowledge of top officials, which included top Abu-Dhabi diplomats at the Brussels embassy.

9. KLM Commercial Flight 747 from Holland to Panama:

Accompanied by four undercover agents, I sat on the KLM commercial flight from Holland to Panama. I looked at my hands and wondered what the future held for me. Was I a criminal or was I a passenger travelling legally? I wasn’t sure what rights an air passenger had travelling in Brussels.

I looked at my hands and found myself still haunted, traumatized, and hurt by my experiences at every transit camp I was forced into. I still feel that pain every day.

On the flight, I tried to keep calm on the flight, but I began to panic. I could hardly breathe as the suicide vest was held tightly against my chest. I jumped out of my seat, urgently crying for help.

The undercover agents, entrusted with the mission to watch and transport me, threw me down and used force to hold me there. It felt as if they were exerting all of their pressure onto me. I felt paralyzed by the pain. I felt my life slipping away from me.

With my last breaths I cried out repeatedly, “I can’t breathe…I can’t breathe…I can’t breathe…” From the corner of my eye of my pinned position I saw people pull out their cameras and phones. They recorded, but did nothing to help. As soon as agents saw what was happening, they were told to ease off and eventually released me from beneath them.

I quietly said to myself, “No, this cannot be happening to me.” I was dazed, weak, and felt pain all over my body. The entire time I tried to keep one thing in mind, which was that I would be severely punished if I showed any form of dissension.

10. Panama City:

In July 2014, we landed in the Panama City Airport. As soon as we arrived, an Interpol Agent introduced herself to me, making it known to me that law enforcement from over 100 countries considered me a convicted criminal.

While the four DVZ undercover agents planned to go to a hotel, the Panama City Airport Police refused to let them take me out of the international transit terminal area. They left me with two DVZ undercover agents, recommending my imprisonment continued in the transit hall of the airport. The other two went to a hotel to enjoy a relaxing evening. In the middle of the night, they changed shifts to energize and refresh.

While they spent time in luxury in a hotel, I was in what felt like a deep freeze. The transit hall was incredibly cold. I was chronically tired and extremely hungry. The undercover agents wouldn’t even allow me to take food given out for free by the Panama-Immigration Police at the airport.

When the immigration police in Panama looked at me, they noticed the situation I was in. All they could do was look at me and ask, “what did you do?”

As a Haitian citizen, I could normally travel through Panama City without a visa, but now that I had been deported and had my name placed on the Interpol Red Notice, the Panama Customs Officers told me that from now on I didn’t have that luxury. They said, “I could no longer freely pass through Panama.”

It was at that moment in Panama that I realized, I would be leaving behind loved ones, without knowing if I’d ever see them again.

11. Detention in Haiti:

After everything I’d gone through, I finally made it to Haiti, but it was not in the way I’d hoped. When I arrived, the Haitian police took me into a room with the four DVZ agents. The agents handed the Haitian police documents, the contents of which I knew nothing about. That was the final time I was accompanied by the four DVZ agents. They teasingly left me with the police, telling me, “Now, we’re going to Miami for vacation, goodbye!”

At the Port au Prince International Airport, I was fingerprinted, registered, and led to another room.

“Amazan, have a seat.” The officers said. “Why have you gotten deported?” The officer asked, leaning forward.

“Sir, I am not a deportee.” I began.

“But you are a deportee.” He reasserted. The officers then looked over my documents thoroughly. However, they were mostly in German. Even as they looked over them carefully, it was clear they could hardly understand anything. They insisted that I disclose all of my wrongdoings in Belgium.

They asked for my address in Haiti, but I told them I had no address. They asked for my phone number, but I told them I had no Haitian phone number.

With each answer, they got angrier and continued their questioning. “What did you do in Belgium to get deported?”
I always responded the same way, “I did nothing wrong in Belgium.”

That made them even more irritated and they insisted that I was deported for crimes, no matter what I said. It was then where they took me to a prison called “Omega.”

12. Omega Prison:

When I arrived at the prison, I was overcome with a powerful stench of urine. We came at night and I was led to the prison’s hallway. It was frightening, walking down the long hallway without knowing what to expect. I was then shown to my room. It was a large dungeon-like cell. It only had a single light that came from a different cell, separated from all the others.

It was severely overcrowded. The walls were painted with blood from insects and cockroaches scurried across the floor. Within that cell were individuals infected with malaria, HIV/AIDS, candida fungus, and tuberculosis, which was the most lethal. It was so hazardous and filthy inside the cell, I remembered seeing plastics bags overflowing with maggots moving all around it. The filth made the spread of infection and disease even greater.

The few individuals that were healthy were packed together, competing for space like sardines in a can, sleeping side by side.

13. My Freedom:

Within the prison, there was a severe cholera outbreak in late July 2014. Combined with the lack of proper nourishment, a staggering number of deaths occurred. It was a miracle that I survived being there. I became so ill myself that my lawyer urged me to be released for medical reasons.

After payment of my bail, I had nothing else, no possessions, nothing but sorrow when I walked out of that camp. I was released to die on the streets of Haiti, with no chance of survival.

I left Port au Prince the very next day and travelled north to seek medical attention before crossing into the Dominican Republic.

14. The Aftermath:

Today, as I write this, years after my experience, my mind still reels in horror. I am struck with symptoms of sullen melancholy mixed with despondency and distrust.

No matter how you look at it, my personal life, my career prospects, every opportunity for a better life has been unequivocally ruined. My self-esteem has been destroyed. My ambition of becoming a hotel director is gone. With no career, my debts continue to pile up.

My health worsens with my mental state. I wake up countless times at night. Nightmares prevent me from sleeping. I am no longer the person I was before. My body is breaking down. My toenails are rotting with fungal infections, due to my imprisonment. The dull pain in my shoulder and back never subsided from the brutal way I was treated by law enforcement.

One of the core responsibilities of a corporation is to keep its customers safe. What I’ve been through is nothing of the sort. My life was ruined through the gross-negligence of KLM- Etihad Airlines, the transit camps that held me unlawfully, and the Belgian law enforcement that beat, bullied, and treated me as a criminal without me ever committing a crime.

The result of my experiences has led me to become depressed, grossly disturbed, in a shattered mental and physical state that I may never recover from. I feel like I can no longer be with my friends and family. It kills me to think about the cruelty I suffered. I’d rather be alone.

All of this happened to me, treated like a criminal, worse than a discarded animal, all for nothing.

I planned to travel to Haiti for a good cause, but by the time I arrived I was labelled, branded a criminal, my body beaten, my mind broken, and my spirit crushed with no chance of recovery.

My only solace, my only saving grace is that I can bring to light what happened to me, tell my story, and possibly prevent others from experiencing what I did.

https://www.wattpad.com/story/239731994-middle-passage
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