Dominican Republic expels, mistreats Haitians, activists say

DAJABON, Dominican Republic (AP) — Bien-Aimé St. Clair frowned as the stream of older Haitian migrants pushed past him. Accused of living in the Dominican Republic illegally, they knew they had no choice but to go back across the border to Haiti.

But St. Clair, 18, hesitated. He shouted at an immigration agent.

“Boss! Hey! I don’t know anyone there,” he yelled in Spanish, motioning toward Haiti as he stood on the frontier that the two countries share on the island of Hispaniola.

St. Clair was a child when his mother brought him to the Dominican Republic, and though his life has been hard — his mom died when he was young, his father disappeared, and he was left alone to raise his disabled brother — it’s the only life he has known.

And now, he was being forced to leave, like more than 31,000 people deported by the Dominican Republic to Haiti this year, more than 12,000 of them in just the past three months — a huge spike, observers say. As the rest of the world closes its doors to Haitian migrants, the country that shares an island with Haiti also is cracking down in a way that human rights activists say hasn’t been seen in decades.

This story was produced with support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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The increasing mistreatment of the country’s Haitians, 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 overwhelmingly Black, while the majority Dominicans identify as mixed race. Dominican authorities, they say, are not only seeking out Haitians who recently crossed illegally into the Dominican Republic, but also those who have long lived there.

“We’ve never seen this,” said William Charpantier, national coordinator for the nonprofit National Roundtable for Migration and Refugees. “The government is acting like we’re at war.”

They’ve arrested Haitians who crossed illegally into the Dominican Republic; Haitians whose Dominican work permits have expired; those born in the DR to Haitian parents but denied citizenship; even, activists say, Black Dominicans born to Dominican parents whom authorities mistake for Haitians.

Haitian officials and activists also say the government is violating laws and agreements by deporting pregnant women, separating children from parents and arresting people between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Meanwhile, activists say hostility against Haitians is spiraling as Abinader unleashed a flurry of anti-Haitian actions.

He suspended a student-visa program for Haitians, prohibited companies from drawing more than 20% of their workforce from migrant workers and ordered Haitian migrants to register their whereabouts.