Dominican Republic-Haiti Crisis Simmers as the OAS Comes Down Hard on the D. R.
A new Dominican policy that could leave hundreds of thousands of Haitians and their descendants without citizenship has renewed old tensions between the neighboring countries and has created an oft-ignored but very serious humanitarian crisis. Haitians and their descendants are living in fear and thousands have already fled. Despite reports from international organizations and journalists on the ground, the Dominican Republic is outright denying that a crisis exists.
In September 2013, a high court in the Dominican Republic ruled that anyone born after 1929 to undocumented people were not Dominican citizens; some 200,000 people are now at risk of being deported and becoming stateless. The 2014 Dominican Republic Human Rights Report published by the U.S. State Department identifies discrimination against Haitians and their descendants as the most serious human rights problem facing the country.
After a small backlash (mostly from human rights organizations), the Dominican Republic announced that anyone who could prove that they had registered with the government or had Dominican birth certificates by June 17 of this year would not be at risk of deportation.
It was supposed to fix the looming crisis, but providing documentation proved to be a lot harder for Haitian immigrants and their Dominican-born children. Undocumented Haitians are often unable to or actively prevented from registering the births of their children with the civil registry. And much like in the United States, undocumented immigrants in the Dominican Republic had trouble receiving the proper documents from their employers.
As activists worldwide began to advocate for the plight of those at risk for deportations and journalists ramped up their coverage of the crisis, the international community finally stepped in to propose a resolution between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, whose officials had been engaged in a war of words.
Last month the Organization of American States sent a fact-finding mission to the border region between Haiti and the Dominican Republic to gather information, listen to the views of government and non-governmental players, and present the Secretary General with observations and recommendations. The mission found what activists had been saying for months. There are people at risk of being stateless and displaced persons living in precarious conditions.
The recommendations included OAS facilitating dialogue to solve the problem and urging the Dominican government strengthening the registration process; finding a way to help vulnerable displaced persons also made the list.
The Dominican government’s response to the OAS was to deny and defend. In an official statement from the Office of the Presidency, the government essentially called OAS’s findings false. “The descriptive part of the report presents clear evidence that the accusations voiced in recent weeks against the Dominican Republic are false and unfounded,” read the official statement, “specifically those referring to a humanitarian crisis and alleged systematic violations of human rights that do not exist.”
Everyone has a right to a nationality, so by stripping away citizenship from hundreds of thousands people the Dominican government is, in fact, in violation of international human rights law.
The statement also mentioned that the Dominican government did not request the presence of the OAS because “there is no currently existing conflict between the two nations that may warrant the need for said mediation,” but that dialogue between Haiti and the Dominican Republic can begin again “as soon as the Haitian government moves away from its attitude of discrediting the Dominican Republic, as a means of evading its responsibility with the people of Haiti.”
The Dominican government has managed to pretend that a crisis of its own doing does not exist, while still placing the blame for the crisis on the Haitian government. But try as they might, the human rights crisis cannot be denied.
The June 17 deadline to register with the Dominican government passed without mass round-ups, but rather with thousands of people pouring over the border into Haiti out of fear of deportation, violence, and harassment. So far, an estimated 37,000 Haitians and their Dominican-born descendants have crossed the border into Haiti.
The International Organization for Migration monitored several border crossings between the two countries and interviewed 1,133 people sheltered inside of a school. Nearly 59 percent of those interviewed said they “spontaneously” returned to Haiti. However, an alarming 36 percent of interviewees said police, military, or immigration officials had forced them out. The majority of interviewees were born in Haiti, but 33 percent of them were born in the Dominican Republic—forced out of the country they used to call home.
In Haiti, along the Dominican-Haitian border, Dominican-born descendants of Haitians and Haitian immigrants have settled in makeshift camps in squalid conditions. The conditions are similar to the tent cities that emerged in the country after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake toppled buildings and killed scores of people in 2010.
It is not lost on critics and activists that the people affected by the 2013 ruling are overwhelmingly black. Antihaitianismo—or anti-Haitian sentiment—is not uncommon in the Dominican Republic. “I have lots of Haitian friends, including undocumented ones whom I’ve helped to get their papers in order,” a Dominican man told Huffington Post in July. “I can go to their homes, spend time with them. But I can’t completely trust them, because you help a Haitian today and he hurts you later. It’s in their blood.” Dominican government officials deny that this kind of racism and discrimination exists.
Much like the rampant discrimination, the Dominican government is trying to evade responsibility for the citizenship crisis by simply pretending it doesn’t exist. Officials seem more concerned with accusing the international community of discrediting them. The Haitian government, international groups, and activists will not be able to discredit the Dominican government but denying the existence of a humanitarian crisis will.