Accusing the Dominican Republic of dumping undocumented Haitians at the border “like dogs,” Haiti’s foreign minister Wednesday called on the international community to break its silence on the mushrooming migration crisis to help both nations find “a more humane treatment or approach.”
Foreign Minister Lener Renauld also asked the Dominican Republic to return to the negotiating table so that the two nations could figure out how best to receive potentially tens of thousands of Haitians living illegally in the Dominican Republic and now subject to deportations under tougher rules recently imposed by the country that shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.
“We are interested in avoiding massive deportations, which would lead to splitting households and tearing children away from their parents,” Renauld said during a special hearing of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States in Washington, D.C. “The Haitian Republic has not come here to get on its knees and ask for mercy. Haiti has come … to ask the Dominican Republic to appeal to reason.”
Renauld’s appeal came days after Haitian President Michel Martelly made a similar appeal to the international community during a meeting of the 15-member Caribbean Community regional bloc in Barbados. An OAS mission prepared to travel to Port-au-Prince and Santo Domingo this weekend. Its goal: to find “a fundamental solution” to the brewing migration crisis based on a respect for international and immigration laws, and human rights.
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“To follow up on this is fine,” OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro Lemes said, “but I believe it would be much better to resolve it once and for all.”
The crisis stems from two recent changes by the Dominican Republic. First, the country’s constitutional court stripped citizenship from anyone who was born in the Dominican Republic to parents who were in the country illegally, and made it retroactive to 1929. Soon, authorities introduced a plan to legalize undocumented foreigners living in the country. The deadline was June 17.
Haitians make up the vast majority of the 288,000 who registered, but thousands more were unable to because they lacked documents. Also, thousands of Dominicans affected by the constitutional court ruling were unable to register in time for a pathway to a citizenship program, leaving them vulnerable to deportations. Some of them have been deported to Haiti, Haitian officials said.
“We will not accept Dominican citizens in the territory,” Renauld said. “It is OK for returning Haitians to their own land, but this will be done according to a protocol.”
This was the second time in less than a week that the immigration crisis between Haiti and the Dominican Republic went before the OAS. Last week, members were speechless as Dominican Foreign Minister Andrés Navarro and Haiti Ambassador Bocchit Edmond threw jabs at each other. Navarro accused Edmond of defamation after Edmond said the wrong people were being deported, including a Nigerian, and they were the victims of violence.
Wednesday’s session was less spirited, though Renauld and Dominican Ambassador Pedro Vergés Ciman also got into a diplomatic war of words, with Vergés accusing the government of Haiti, via its foreign ministers, of adjusting “realities to its own interests and thereby distorts it.”
“Haiti had an opportunity to regularize its nationals but they were simply not interested,” Vergés said, noting that only a third of the 288,000 registered in the program had passports.
He said the Dominican Republic welcomed dialogue, but no one could force policy on the sovereign nation. Until recently, Haiti and the Dominican Republic were talking, but negotiations broke down.
Haiti’s program to document its nationals in the Dominican Republic has been steeped with problems. In the final days leading to the June 17 deadline, thousands of Haitians were lined up at the Haitian Embassy desperately trying to get documents to apply.
Human rights groups have questioned the Dominican Republic’s goodwill in helping undocumented migrants register, saying the government could have extended the deadline. They also reject claims that deportations are not happening.
“Deportations, forcible removals are happening on a consistent and ongoing basis,” said Wade McMullen, staff attorney at the Robert F.Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights in Washington. “None of the things the Dominican government said they were going to do, like videotape every single case and make individualized decisions, are happening.”
The international Organization for Migration, which is monitoring the border, said the exact number of people who have crossed back into Haiti isn’t known because they are not being registered. Some have left voluntarily out of fear of being deported, while others have been forced back in a climate of fear and violence. With no place to go, many are taking up residence along the border, triggering fears of a new camp crisis five years after a deadly earthquake left 1.5 million Haitians homeless.
This week, the Dominican Republic’s Immigration Agency said nearly 37,000 undocumented Haitian immigrants had voluntarily left the island.
“They simply decided to go back to their homeland. How is it possible for us to impede their desire to return to their homeland?” Vergés said. “In the Dominican Republic, there is no statelessness; nor has their been any deportations since November 2013.”
Haiti’s Renauld, disagreeing with Vergés, said recently government officials received calls of migrants arriving at 1 a.m. at the border.
“You left them at the border like dogs,” he said. He called the situation potentially destabilizing.
Caribbean nations agreed, saying both nations as well as the region was facing an “unresolved human rights crisis that was not getting the attention it deserved from the major countries of the global community.”
Caribbean nations remained steadfast in their condemnation of the Dominican Republic and in support of Haiti, calling for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to be a part of the mission. Jamaica’s ambassdor requested that the IACHR provide independent monitoring of the situation along the border and in the Dominican Republic.
“Jamaica is not entirely convinced that the departures are a truly voluntarily exercise,” Ambassador Stephen Vasciannie said. “We call upon the government of the Dominican Republic to establish an orderly process for departures.”
Vergés, who said his nation welcomed the commission, warned that countries that have taken “radical positions” against his nation in favor of Haiti should not be a part of the mission.
“No one, absolutely no one, can ask the Dominican Republic to shoulder the responsibilities of another state, nor can we accept cynical nations who …treat this as outrageous when in their own countries they treat migrants the same way,” he said. “Everything has a limit. Those who would like to assess our policies, you are free to visit us. Please come and observe how we peacefully co-exist in our island in peace and harmony.”
Latin nations, reluctant to take sides in the fight, called for dialogue. The United States, meanwhile, said it was “monitoring the situation closely” and called for transparent communication between both nations and clear protocols for the processing of individuals for any related deportations.
Tensions between Haiti and the Dominican Republic are nothing new, and the two nations have a history of animosity. But Vergés said isolated incidents, such as the recent lynching of a Haitian migrant and burning of a Haitian flag, were isolated incidents that had been unfairly portrayed as widespread reality.
“The behavior of a country that takes social networks, videos and shameful anecdotes of some citizens to tarnish the image of another is deplorable behavior,” he said. “We do not have a perfect society. But those who criticize us do not have a perfect society either.”