Nov 23, 2022 - World

Dominican Republic's treatment of Haitian migrants draws fire

A member of the Specialized Border Security Corps (Cesfront) directs pedestrians arriving from Haiti at the Dajabon and Ouanaminthe border bridge entry gate in Dajabon, Dominican Republic.

A member of the Dominican Republic's Specialized Border Security Corps (Cesfront) directs pedestrians arriving from Haiti at the Dajabon and Ouanaminthe border bridge entry gate. Photo: Tatiana Fernandez Geara/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Dominican Republic is facing international criticism over its treatment and deportation of Haitian migrants.

Driving the news: Dominican authorities expelled more than 60,000 Haitians between August and October, a government spokesperson said in a tweet earlier this month.

  • Over 108,000 Haitians have been deported since the beginning of the year — more than double the number repatriated to Haiti in all of last year, the spokesperson added.

The big picture: Longstanding tensions between the two island neighbors intensified after the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021.

  • Since then, the Dominican Republic has stepped up its efforts to deport undocumented migrants, including Haitians.
  • The Dominican Republic announced earlier this month it's creating a police unit to look into foreigners living in the country without documentation.
  • In February, the country began building a wall covering nearly half of the 244-mile border with Haiti.
  • Dominican officials say the measures and deportations are necessary due to economical situation in Haiti.

But critics, including the UN, say the deportations must stop due to the human rights situation in Haiti, which is facing a cholera outbreak, fuel shortages and escalating gang violence.

  • "Unremitting armed violence and systematic human rights violations in Haiti do not currently allow for the safe, dignified and sustainable return of Haitians to the country," UN human rights chief Volker Türk in a statement.

What they're saying: The U.S. embassy on Saturday warned as Dominican officials target suspected undocumented immigrants, especially Haitians, "authorities have not [in some cases] respected these individuals' legal status in the Dominican Republic or nationality."

  • "These actions may lead to increased interaction with Dominican authorities, especially for darker-skinned U.S. citizens and U.S. citizens of African descent," the Embassy wrote.
  • "There are reports that detainees are held in overcrowded detention centers, without the ability to challenge their detention and without access to food or toilets, sometimes for days, before being released or deported to Haiti," the Embassy added.
  • The Embassy stopped short of saying the deportations must stop. The U.S., which has deported thousands of Haitians this year, is preparing for the possibility of mass migration from Haiti by expanding a migrant center on Guantanamo Bay and looking into the Bahamas or Turks and Caicos for temporary new holding sites, Axios' Stef Kight reported last week.

The Dominican Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected the U.S. Embassy's warning, saying in a statement: "The United States government has not provided any evidence beyond anecdotal cases."

  • The ministry called on the U.S. Embassy to remove the alert, adding that the "Dominican government would never have imagined such insinuations against our country."

Between the lines: Anti-Haitianism and anti-Blackness are part of the nationalistic story and history, which has been taught and propelled in the Dominican Republic and in the diaspora, Ayendy Bonifacio, an assistant professor of English at the University of Toledo, specializing in American Literature and Latinx studies, told Axios.

  • "People's human rights (are) being violated as the government enacts the latest decree to deport Haitians rapidly throughout the country," he said. "But what's happening is a human rights crisis."
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