The Dominican Republic is cracking down on Haitian migrants


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Impoverished Haiti, beset by spreading gang violence, worsening starvation and now cholera, is hemorrhaging refugees.

Its nearest neighbor is responding by tightening its border and stepping up deportations.

The Dominican Republic, with which Haiti shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, is constructing a 13-foot-high fence alongside almost half of the 250-mile frontier and sending tens of 1000’s of Haitians again residence. They have included a whole lot of pregnant ladies and unaccompanied minors, advocates say, in obvious violation of worldwide conventions and bilateral agreements.

The Dominican Republic, with a inhabitants of 11 million, is residence to greater than 500,000 Haitians. The nation, extra secure and affluent than its neighbor, deported greater than 170,000 individuals in 2022, authorities information reveals; most have been Haitians. That was greater than double the quantity from the yr earlier than.

In January, authorities picked up the tempo, eradicating 23,500 extra.

“Never before has any government done so much to protect the integrity of the Dominican Republic along its border,” President Luis Abinader advised the nation’s National Assembly final month, to applause.

Some migrants and their advocates see a component of racism within the coverage. The U.S. State Department has warned American vacationers that the crackdown “may lead to increased interaction with Dominican authorities, especially for darker-skinned U.S. citizens and U.S. citizens of African descent.”

The U.N. excessive commissioner for human rights, amongst others, has known as for the removals to finish.

Haitian deportees, together with unaccompanied minors, have advised The Washington Post of being arrested with out clarification and held in overcrowded and unsanitary areas with little or no meals or water earlier than being despatched again to a rustic the place they worry for his or her lives.

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Manoucheka Saint-Fleur, a 32-year-old workplace cleaner, fled Haiti in 2020 after 5 cops in Port-au-Prince have been shot to demise. She says she was detained within the Dominican Republic on her approach to work sooner or later, jammed right into a packed yellow bus and pushed to the border. She says authorities beat and Tasered migrants and fired tear gasoline into the bus.

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The Dominican Republic’s Foreign and Immigration ministries didn’t reply to The Post’s questions concerning the marketing campaign. But in public feedback, Dominican officers have rejected criticism. Given the chaos subsequent door — Abinader has known as it a “low-intensity civil war” — the removals are obligatory, they are saying. They deny that they’re abusing migrants. And they chide the worldwide group for failing to ease Haiti’s crises.

When the United Nations urged a halt to the removals, Abinader was defiant: Not solely would they proceed however they might enhance, he stated. “Never before,” he boasted final month, has his nation “shown so much firmness in our immigration policy, in line with human rights, but without hesitation when it comes to its application.”

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Some Dominicans accuse critics of meddling within the nation’s inner affairs and, in nativist tones, rail in opposition to the “Haitianization” of their nation. They say it’s unfair to single out the nation that has borne the brunt of the Haitian exodus for criticism when different international locations have been equally unwelcoming.

The Bahamas, one other widespread vacation spot for fleeing Haitians, introduced its personal crackdown final month. U.S. officers this month defended the U.S. elimination of Haitians earlier than the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Bridget Wooding, director of the Observatory of Caribbean Migrants, stated that “deportations are episodically used in the Dominican Republic for political ends,” however that the present crackdown is notable for the numbers of individuals being swept up.

It’s disproportionately affecting “older women, pregnant women, postpartum women and children,” she stated, though they’re speculated to be shielded from deportation by Dominican laws, binational agreements and worldwide conventions.

The migrant support group Fondation Zanmi Timoun operates a middle within the Haitian border group of Belladère. In the final half of 2022, spokesman Joseph Richard Fortuné says, it acquired greater than 760 deported unaccompanied minors, together with a number of pregnant women with disabilities.

Most of the youngsters had been detained, he says, typically for longer than per week. Some had been separated from their mother and father. Among the deportees, Fortuné says, was a 16-year-old Black lady who had been stopped on her approach to college, regardless of being a Dominican citizen — proof, he says, of “a racism component” within the removals.

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“We’ve always had deportations,” he stated. “But what we’ve seen since July is unprecedented.”

The developments are inflaming long-fraught relations between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

The migration of Creole-speaking Haitians to the Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic dates again greater than a century. Haitians have lengthy been employed — legally and in any other case — in low-wage jobs many Dominicans are loath to carry out, notably in development and agriculture.

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Haiti is among the Dominican Republic’s foremost buying and selling companions, and households and friendships span the border. But the neighboring international locations are, in some ways, worlds aside.

The Dominican Republic, a vacationer magnet, is one in all Latin America’s financial successes.

Haiti, in distinction, has lengthy been the hemisphere’s poorest nation, buffeted by a cycle of dictatorship and violent political chaos. Its presidency has been vacant because the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021, and the National Assembly empty because the final senators’ phrases expired in January with out new elections.

The authorities, reminiscent of it’s, is led by Ariel Henry, appointed prime minister by Moïse two days earlier than his demise and now linked to a suspect within the still-unsolved plot to kill the president. But appreciable energy is wielded by the violent armed gangs that management a lot of Port-au-Prince.

Doctors Without Borders cited “intolerable risks” this month when it suspended operations at a medical facility within the Cité Soleil slum of the capital. “We are looking at a war scene just meters from our hospital,” medical adviser Vincent Harris stated.

The Dominican Republic, stealing a web page from Donald Trump’s playbook, started constructing its border fence final yr. The Abinader administration says it ought to be completed by May 2024 — simply in time, because it occurs, for basic elections.

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In Haiti, in the meantime, the Support Group for Refugees and Returnees is struggling to deal with the quantity of deportees. Rigard Orbé, who heads the workplace within the border metropolis of Belladère, says it acquired twice as many deported pregnant ladies final yr as in 2021.

Josué Azor, a 36-year-old freelance photographer primarily based in Port-au-Prince, flew to the Dominican Republic in December for a piece task. While out sooner or later in Las Terrenas, a coastal resort 100 miles from Santo Domingo, he says, he and a colleague have been arrested for what they have been advised have been immigration violations.

Azor says he provided repeatedly to point out authorities his paperwork, however they weren’t . He was detained with different Haitians for 3 hours within the blazing Dominican solar, whereas police splashed some with a “nasty liquid,” earlier than he was launched with out clarification.

“It was clear that it was something against Haitians,” Azor stated. “I guess that my gestures, the language we speak on the street made them see that we were Haitian. … It’s xenophobia.”

Junior Laurent, 22, was born to Haitian mother and father within the Dominican Republic, the place he grew up and nonetheless lives. Anti-Haitian discrimination has grown so extreme, he says, that his household now hardly ever ventures out.

He made an exception in January to purchase juice close to his residence. Authorities detained him with out asking any questions. Two days later, he was deported to Haiti.

“If you are Black, they will arrest you,” he stated. “It’s humiliating what they did to me.”

The U.N. is mulling one other mission to Haiti. Haitians are skeptical.

Emmanuel Blaise, a home painter, was arrested on his method residence from work in January. In detention, he says, authorities beat him. He says the officers who arrested him stated they may forestall his elimination — for 15,000 Dominican pesos.

That was greater than he might afford. He was deported.

“I paid to get in,” Blaise stated. “The same officers who help you get in are the same ones who will arrest you and bring you back.”

Ana Vanessa Herrero contributed to this report.

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