By Cameran Clayton
Europe is not the only place encountering waves of homeless migrants. Although Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the island of Hispaniola, forced deportations and trade disruptions along their border are just the latest manifestations of a centuries-old political discord.
In August, the Dominican government began implementation of its 2013 constitutional court decision to revoke citizenship from over 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent. Traditionally, individuals born on Dominican soil were given automatic citizenship. Under the new ruling, individuals born in the Dominican Republic after 1929 who do not have at least one parent with full citizenship are no longer considered citizens. These individuals are now essentially stateless.
At the same time, the country stepped-up its “national plan for the regularization of foreigners” process which directly targets Haitian migrants. These measures have elicited international outrage as reports of forced and unlawful deportations continue to surface.
In the Dominican Republic, as elsewhere, immigrants are often blamed for taking jobs. Although the Dominican government and business owners have, at times, intentionally sought out and benefitted from the cheap labor Haitian immigrants provide. But racialized fears of “Haitianisation” are still regularly voiced by politicians and some media. Violence against individuals of Haitian descent often goes unreported, and many Haitian migrants live in appalling poverty. At the same time, many Dominicans expressed shock and anger over the constitutional court’s decision.
Haitian President Michel Martelly then unilaterally banned overland importation of 23 key Dominican products. This move is viewed by many as a response to the Dominican government’s immigration policies.
Haitian and Dominican merchants began demonstrating against the ban just days after it was announced on Oct. 1. Vital necessities, such as flour and drinking water, are among those products restricted from traditional entry into Haiti. The Dominican Republic is still able to ship its products by air or sea, though these routes are costly. Relatively few merchants are able to transport products this way and some critics say the ban is favoring wealthier merchants. So far, merchants on both sides of the border seem to be in solidarity with each other, as they are collectively striking in opposition to the ban.
For decades, the Haitian and Dominican governments have failed to fully develop adequate migration policies to regulate how migrants enter, leave and remain in the country. In the wake of the 2013 constitutional court decision, deportations increased by 21,000 in 2014. Often, these individuals have little to no family or roots of any kind in Haiti. Many do not even speak Haitian Creole. It was against this backdrop that the Haitian government placed its importation ban on Dominican products.
Shortly after the ban, Haitian citizens with proper documentation began complaining that Dominican border patrols were refusing to let them into the country. Haitian citizens denied lawful access began protesting this treatment just as Haitian and Dominican merchants began their strike and subsequent demonstrations.
Mireille Fanon Mendès-France, who heads the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, released a statement condemning the actions of the Dominican government. “The Dominican Republic cannot violate international norms or those of the inter-American system of human rights protection, and especially not violate its own constitution,” she said. “The Dominican Republic does not recognize the existence of a structural problem of racism and xenophobia, but it must address these issues as a matter of priority so the country can live free from tension and fear.”
On Tuesday, Oct. 13, this turmoil finally brought the two presidents together in the hope that they may restore their strained diplomatic relationship, resume trade and perhaps hammer-out more humane citizenship and immigration policies. It is still too early to say whether renewed diplomatic communication and a possible lifting of the ban will quell long-standing tensions between the two countries.
Photo of President Danilo Medina by Luis Ruiz Tito from Creative Commons
Photo of President Michel Martelly by Carlos Vera from Creative Commons