Haitian migrants in Dominican Republic threatened with deportation and ill-treatment
Amid a crackdown on Haitian migrants allegedly based on racial profiling, authorities in the Dominican Republic are deporting both new arrivals and people who have lived in the country for a long time, activists warn.
Bien-AimÃ© St. Clair frowned as the stream of older Haitian migrants passed him. Accused of living illegally in the Dominican Republic, they knew they had no choice but to cross the border into Haiti.
But 18-year-old St. Clair hesitated. He yelled at an immigration officer.
âChief! Hey! I don’t know anyone there,â he shouted in Spanish, pointing to Haiti as he stood on the border the two countries share on the island of Hispaniola.
St. Clair was a child when his mother took him to the Dominican Republic, and although his life was hard – his mother died when he was young, his father disappeared and he was left alone to raise his disabled brother – it is the only life he has known.
And now he was forced to leave, like more than 31,000 people deported from the Dominican Republic to Haiti this year, including more than 12,000 in the past three months – a huge spike, observers said. As the rest of the world closes its doors to Haitian migrants, the country that shares an island with Haiti is also cracking down in a way that human rights activists say has not been seen for decades.
The growing mistreatment of Haitians in the country, they say, coincided with the rise of Luis Abinader, who took office as president in August 2020.
They accuse the government of targeting vulnerable populations, separating children from their parents and racial profiling – Haiti is predominantly black, while the majority of Dominicans identify as mixed race. Dominican authorities, they say, are not only looking for Haitians who have recently entered the Dominican Republic illegally, but also those who have lived there for a long time.
âWe’ve never seen this,â said William Charpantier, national coordinator of the national nonprofit Roundtable on Migration and Refugees. âThe government acts like we are at war.
They arrested Haitians who entered the Dominican Republic illegally; Haitians whose Dominican work permits have expired; those born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents but whose citizenship was refused; even, say the activists, black Dominicans born to Dominican parents whom the authorities take for Haitians.
Haitian officials and activists also say the government is breaking laws and agreements by deporting pregnant women, separating children from their parents and arresting people between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Meanwhile, activists say hostility against Haitians is skyrocketing as Abinader unleashes a wave of anti-Haitian actions.
He suspended a student visa program for Haitians, prohibited companies from removing more than 20% of their workforce from migrant workers, and ordered Haitian migrants to register their whereabouts.
He announced an audit of some 220,000 people who had already obtained immigration status to determine if they were still eligible, and he warned that anyone who provided transport or accommodation to undocumented migrants would be fined. And he suspended pensions owed to hundreds of former sugar cane workers, most of them Haitians.
The measures follow Abinader’s announcement in February that his administration would build a multi-million dollar, 190-kilometer wall along the Haitian border.
Haiti and the Dominican Republic have long enjoyed a cautious and difficult relationship, marred by a 1937 massacre in which thousands of Haitians were killed under Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo.
The racism and rejection of Haitians is still palpable, with Dominicans cursing them or making derogatory comments when they see them in the streets.
Yet hundreds of thousands of Haitians are believed to be living in the Dominican Republic, even before many fled Haiti in recent months following a presidential assassination, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake, severe human shortage. fuel and an outbreak of gang violence. and kidnappings.
âWe are not coming here to conquer the country. We are trying to survive, âsaid Gaetjens Thelusma of the non-profit group We Will Save Haiti.
The government has repeatedly stated that it treats migrants humanely. Abinader recently told the United Nations that his country has borne the burden of dealing with the fallout from the crises in Haiti on its own, without much help from the rest of the world.
While his country has shown solidarity and collaboration with Haiti and will continue to do so, he said: âI also reiterate that there is no and never will be a Dominican solution to the crisis in Haiti.
His own ministers darkly called Haitians invaders: in early November, JesÃºs VÃ¡zquez, Dominican Minister of the Interior and the Police, inaugurated the first of several dozen offices where foreigners will be required to register.
He told reporters: âThe main threat facing the Dominican Republic today is Haiti, and we are called to defend our homeland. “
The raids, deportations and ill-treatment inflicted by the government have dissuaded some Haitians from crossing into the Dominican Republic, according to a human smuggler who gave his first name only to Luis Fernando.
He was born in Haiti but has lived in the Dominican Republic for 19 years. He paints and works in construction, but also helps migrants cross illegally, paying Dominican officials between $ 35 and $ 90 to look away. In mid-November, he put a group on hold waiting to cross.
âFor now, they had better stay there. Until things get colder, âhe said.
And yet, some still insist on going to the Dominican Republic.
St. Clair, the stranded teenager in Dajabon, looked around as immigration officials who had detained him left and authorities prepared to close the border overnight. Gone are the streams of border workers, the roar of trucks and the roar of motorcycles carrying plantains, onions and other goods.
Sorry UNICEF workers told him they couldn’t help him – he turned 18 in October and was now considered an adult.
St. Clair began to march towards the Dominican Republic. A concerned immigration official shouted after him, âWhere are you going to sleep? You have no money.
St. Clair did not respond. As the sun set, he escaped authorities, snuck into the Dominican Republic, and disappeared on a quiet street.