Dominican Republic sending children, pregnant migrants back to Haiti


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Poor Haiti is bleeding refugees from rampant gang violence, hunger and now cholera.

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

The Dominican Republic, with which Haiti shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, is building a 13-foot-high fence along about half. 250 miles of border and sending tens of thousands of Haitians back home. Lawyers say they have included hundreds of pregnant women and unaccompanied minors, in flagrant violation of international conventions and bilateral agreements.

The Dominican Republic, with a population of 11 million, is home to more than 500,000 Haitians. The country, more stable and prosperous than its neighbor, deported more than 170,000 people in 2022, government figures show; Most were Haitian. This number was more than double compared to the previous year.

In January, officials picked up the pace, removing 23,500 more.

“Before no government has done so much to protect the integrity of the Dominican Republic along its border,” President Luis Abenader said to applause in the country’s National Assembly last month.

Some immigrants and their supporters see an element of racism in the policy. The US State Department warned US travelers that the crackdown “could lead to increased interactions with Dominican authorities, particularly for black US citizens and US citizens of African descent.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, among others, has called for an end to the dismissals.

Haitian deportees, including unaccompanied minors, have told The Washington Post that they have been arrested without explanation and before being sent back to a country where they fear for their lives. are kept in overcrowded and unsanitary places with little or no food or water before being sent back.

The senators’ departure leaves Haiti without an elected government.

Manoucheka Saint-Fleur, a 32-year-old office Kleiner fled Haiti in 2020 after five police officers were shot dead in Port-au-Prince. She says she was detained in the Dominican Republic on her way to work one day, forced into an overcrowded yellow bus and driven to the border. She says the authorities beat the migrants and threw tear gas into the bus.

The Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration did not respond to The Post’s questions about the campaign. But in public comments, Dominican officials Criticism rejected. Given the chaos next door — Abender calls it “a low-intensity civil war” — he says removal is necessary. They refuse. That they are abusing the migrants. And they blame the international community for failing to alleviate Haiti’s crises.

When the United Nations pressed for a halt to the removal process, Abender refused: not only would it continue, he said, it would increase. “Never before,” he boasted last month, has his country “been so strong in our immigration policy, in line with human rights, but without hesitation when it comes to its application.” .

Kidnapping by the busload: Haitians are being held hostage as kidnappings increase.

Some Dominicans accuse critics of meddling in the country’s internal affairs and rail against the “Hetanization” of their country. They say it’s unfair to single out the country that has taken the brunt of Haiti’s expulsion for criticism while other countries have been similarly unpopular.

The Bahamas, another popular getaway destination Haitians announced their crackdown last month. U.S. officials defended the U.S. deportation of Haitians before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights this month.

Bridget Wooding, director of the Observatory of Caribbean Migrants, said that “deportation is used for political purposes in the Dominican Republic,” but that the current crackdown is notable for increasing the number of people.

He said it was disproportionately affecting “elderly women, pregnant women, postpartum women and children,” even though they should be protected from deportation by Dominican legislation, bilateral agreements and international conventions.

The migrant aid group Foundation Zanmi Timon runs a center in the Haitian border community of Beldière. In the latter half of 2022, spokesman Joseph Richard Fortune says, it received more than 760 deported minors, including several pregnant disabled girls.

Most were children. Sometimes they are detained for more than a week, they say. Some were separated from their parents. Among the exiles, Fortune says, There was a 16-year-old black girl who was stopped on her way to school despite being a Dominican citizen — evidence, he says, that there was a “racist component” to the removal.

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

Developments are long overdue Relations between Haiti and the Dominican Republic

Migration of Creole speakers Haitians from the Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic date back more than a century. Haitians have long been employed — legally and otherwise — in low-wage jobs, with many Dominicans especially wary of working in construction and agriculture.

A Haitian border town is struggling with new laws in the Dominican Republic.

Haiti is one of the Dominican Republic’s main trading partners, and family and friendships span the border. But Neighboring countries are, in many ways, worlds apart.

The Dominican Republic, a tourist magnet, is one of Latin America’s economic successes.

By contrast, Haiti has long been the poorest country in the hemisphere, plagued by cycles of dictatorship and violent political chaos. Its presidency has been vacant since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021, and the National Assembly is empty because the last senators’ terms expired in January without new elections.

The government, such as it is, is headed by Ariel Henry, appointed prime minister by Moise two days before his death and now linked to a suspect in a still-unsolved plot to assassinate the president. Is. But considerable power rests in the hands of violent armed groups that control much of Port-au-Prince.

Doctors Without Borders cited “intolerable risks” this month when it suspended operations at a medical facility in the capital’s Cité Soleil slum. “We are seeing a war scene just meters away from our hospital,” said medical consultant Vincent Harris.

Stealing a page from Donald Trump’s playbook, the Dominican Republic began building a fence along its border last year. The Abender administration says it should be finished by May 2024 – just in time, as it is for general elections.

The Dominicans are ready to grab the Haitian workers as the deadline passes.

In Haiti, meanwhile, aid groups for refugees and returnees are struggling to cope with the influx of deportees. Rigard Orbé, who heads the office in the border town of Belladère, says he received double the number of pregnant women deported last year. As in 2021.

Josué Azor, a 36-year-old freelance photographer based in Port-au-Prince, traveled to the Dominican Republic on a work assignment in December. While a day out In Las Ternas, a beach resort 100 miles from Santo Domingo, he says, He and an accomplice were cited for immigration violations.

Azor says he repeatedly offered to show his documents to the authorities, but they were not interested. He was held in the hot Dominican sun for three hours with other Haitians, while police sprayed some with a “disgusting liquid” before being released without explanation.

“It was clear it was something against the Haitians,” Azor said. “I guess with my gestures, the language we speak on the street, they show that we’re Haitians. … It’s xenophobia.

Junior Laurent, 22, was born to Haitian parents in the Dominican Republic, where he grew up and still lives. Anti-Haitian discrimination has become so severe, he says, that his family now rarely goes outside.

He made a concession to buy juice near his home in January. The authorities took him into custody without asking any questions. Two days later he was deported to Haiti.

“If you are black, they will arrest you,” he said. “It’s disgraceful what they did to me.”

The United Nations is considering sending another mission to Haiti. Haitians are skeptical.

Emmanuel Blaise, a house painter, Arrested on his way home from work in January. In custody, he says, the authorities beat him. He says the officers who arrested him said they could prevent his removal — for 15,000 Dominican pesos.

It was more than he could afford. He was deported.

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

Ana Vanessa Herrero contributed to this report.

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