By Manny Otiko
A wide-scale humanitarian crisis is playing out on the island of Hispaniola, as the Dominican Republic purges its country of both Haitian undocumented workers and some Dominicans of Haitian descent. The purge, which has gone ahead despite pleas from the international community and human rights groups, targets about 200,000 people including many lowly-paid workers.
The purge was spurred by a 2013 court ruling that stripped citizenship of Haitians born in the Dominican Republic after 1929. The law also denies citizenship to children born in the Dominican Republic to undocumented parents. To be considered citizens, children need to have at least one Dominican parent.
To compound the problem, many of the Dominican Haitians were born in shacks and lack paperwork proving they are legal residents.
The mass deportations are being enforced by the army which is rounding up undocumented migrants and anyone that “looks Haitian.” If people cannot provide the proper documentation, they are shipped out of the country in trucks. An Amnesty International report told of a Dominican-born Haitian deported because he didn’t have the right documents on him when detained by the army.
“Wilson Sentimo, a Dominican of Haitian descent, was the only one who did not have any identity document with him. Although he told the officers that he was Dominican, the army personnel arrested him and forced him to board the truck telling him that he was ‘Haitian,’” said the Amnesty International report. “He was first sent to the army post in Mao and then to the border town of Dajabon along with around 30 other people. They were subsequently deported to Haiti.”
Sentimo was stuck in Haiti because he does not have the right documents to reenter the country of his birth.
The reasons for the “ethnic cleansing” are murky. The Dominican government says it’s to crack down on undocumented workers, who are a drain on the economy. Haitians make up 90 percent of the immigrants to the Dominican Republic, but only account for about 5 percent of the population, according to Yahoo News. Haitians think it has more to do with race. Most Dominicans are what Americans would call Latinos, a mix between Native Americans and Europeans. Haitians are Black.
Apart from being a major human rights violation, the purge is causing a strain on the resources of Haiti, an already impoverished country, which is struggling to recover from the effects of an earthquake.
The Associated Press said Saint-Soi Souverin, a laborer, was recently deported back to his native country. According to the AP, Dominican authorities deported the 35-year-old farm worker along with his wife and four children early this week, “leaving Saint-Soi Souverin to ponder what he will do in Haiti”—which he left at age 17 to find work in the Dominican Republic, which is in better economic standing than Haiti.
“I’m not taking this well,” he told the AP in Spanish as his small daughter fell asleep on the shelter’s concrete floor Thursday. “They sent me here with two empty hands. Everything I own was left behind.”
Apart from deporting manual laborers who have little resources, the purge is also creating a huge social problem as many of the deportees are being dumped into an alien culture, where they have no family and don’t even speak the language. Dominicans speak Spanish, while Haitians speak French. Some of the returnees are not recognized as citizens of either country, effectively leaving them stateless.
“An elderly woman complained that Dominican authorities want to kick out everyone with Black skin before her son—keen to return to work once she is safe—hushes her,” according to Yahoo News.
“I have no family here,” Brevil Meristil told Yahoo News. “The Haitian state is my family now,” he said.
Yahoo News said Haitian President Michel Martelly has promised to take care of all the deportees. NPR reported Haiti expects to receive at least 30,000 people.