Faced with an international outcry, the Dominican Republic has wisely pulled back on a threat to expel a few hundred thousand Haitian migrant workers from its soil. But the threat itself has not been rescinded, and the crisis is far from over.
Last week, the Organization of American States issued a mildly worded report that referred to the turmoil along the 230-mile border that the two countries share on the island of Hispaniola as “the present difficulties” — classic diplo-speak for the catastrophe that has befallen hundreds of thousands of people of Haitian ancestry on Dominican soil.
Their plight began in 2013 when a Dominican court summarily stripped ethnic Haitians born in the Dominican Republic of their citizenship, making the action retroactive to 1929. That turned an estimated 450,000 ethnic Haitians — no one knows exactly how many — into stateless persons. Then the Dominican government introduced a policy to legalize undocumented workers. But when many failed to meet the deadline, it triggered a stampede to the border on the part those who feared being forcibly uprooted and expelled.
The OAS suggested that the two countries engage in a “dialogue” that might produce a workable solution. It offered to mediate the dispute and suggested some sort of process to help the displaced “that allows for the transfer of people between the two countries.”
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This follows standard diplomatic practice, allowing a respected multinational organization to facilitate talks between antagonistic countries to settle an international dispute before it gets worse. But even though the statement avoided pointing fingers at any party, the Dominican government was having none of it.
Its response to the OAS declared that, “There is no currently existing conflict between the two nations that may warrant the need for said mediation” — an absurd denial of reality — and further declared that dialogue “can be reestablished 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 response was unhelpful, to say the least.
Although the government seems to have backed away (for now) from mass deportations, ethnic Haitians living on Dominican soil have had their lives upended. They felt they, too, were under the threat of expulsion because they lacked the requisite paperwork.
The government’s first response to international outrage was to allow ethnic Haitians a chance to enroll in a legalization program so they could remain in the country, perhaps even gaining the citizenship many thought they already had.
But the bureaucratic process has been plagued by errors, delays and confusion. Many could not obtain the papers they need or were lost in the shuffle.
Perhaps because of quiet diplomacy by the United States and other countries in the region, the feared mass expulsions have not occurred. But who’s to say they won’t?
Meanwhile, countless thousands of ethnic Haitians remain in limbo, and with the imminent start of the school year, many children do not know if they will be admitted to public schools.
The solution is for the Dominican government to explicitly remove the threat of mass expulsions and clean up the “regularization” process so that those under threat can get the papers they need and go back to living their lives in peace. Only then will their nightmare be over.