Dominican Crackdown on Haitian Migrants Sows Fear

WTOP-FM (Washington, D.C.), February 1, 2011

The Dominican Republic has deported thousands of illegal immigrants in recent weeks, sowing fear among Haitians living in the country and prompting accusations its government is using a cholera outbreak as a pretext for a crackdown.

In the largest campaign in years to target Haitians living illegally in the Dominican Republic, soldiers and immigration agents have been setting up checkpoints and conducting neighborhood sweeps, detaining anyone without papers and booting them from the country.


Hundreds of thousands of Haitians live at least part-time in the Dominican Republic, enduring frequent discrimination and the constant fear of being deported. A cholera epidemic in Haiti that has killed at least 4,000 people and sickened 200,000 has made matters worse.

Dominican officials eased border controls and halted deportations for humanitarian reasons after the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake near Port-au-Prince that killed an estimated 316,000 people and devastated the already impoverished nation. But right at the one-year anniversary of the quake, the deportations resumed–with greater enforcement than has been seen since 2005.

More than 3,000 people have been handcuffed and sent across the border in the past three weeks, including some legal residents who were simply caught without their documents, according to migrants and advocates.


The government denies that any legal residents have been deported. Dominican immigration chief Sigfrido Pared defended the deportations, saying his country cannot be an escape valve for Haitians fleeing extreme poverty and political instability.

The United Nations estimated before the earthquake that some 600,000 Haitians were living illegally in the Dominican Republic, which has a total population of nearly 10 million. Dominican authorities say that number has since grown to 1 million, most of them there illegally.

“It is very easy for some countries or some organizations to criticize the situation in the Dominican Republic,” Pared said. “No (other) country in the world has a border with Haiti. No country in the world has a Haitian problem like the Dominican Republic has.”


So far there have only been about 300 known cholera cases in the Dominican Republic–with one fatality, a Haitian migrant believed to have contracted the disease back home. Even in Haiti, the disease has slowed in recent weeks amid a nationwide treatment and education campaign.

However infectious disease specialists warn that cholera could still rebound in Haiti, and the Dominican Health Ministry says it can’t afford to take any chances


“It’s [cholera] a threat to our country,” said Secondino Matos, a 50-year-old truck driver. “They (Haitians) are our brothers–but not the illegal ones. This country is drowning in them already.”


Some activists allege that cholera is just an excuse, and the mass deportations are actually driven by racism and xenophobia.


The Foreign Ministry and Migration Office said the operation is focused on Haitians who are coming into the country illegally, but there are tens of thousands in the country with no papers so it’s often not possible to know who is a recent arrival and who has been there for years.


In addition to the deportations, Haitians say the crackdown is making their lives difficult in other ways: Bus and taxi drivers are now reluctant to transport them because authorities have been impounding vehicles carrying illegal migrants and handing out $270 fines. The increased border security not only makes it harder to cross but also has driven up the price of bribing Dominican border guards and migrant smugglers’ fees.


Darker-skinned Haitians are frequently discriminated against, and the Dominican Republic denies citizenship to people of Haitian ancestry born in the country by claiming they are “in transit”–even when many have been there for generations.



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