Families Sleeping Under Bedsheets & Cardboard With No Food or Water
By Etant Dupain, September 16, 2015
Anse-à-Pitres, Haiti: In the last week alone, the Dominican Republic has deported almost 1,000 people at three points on the border with Haiti. One month after the deportations began again, the crisis continues to become more urgent. More than 87,000 people fled the Dominican Republic due to the threats of deportation between June 17 and the end of August. The number of people formally deported along with those who have voluntarily left in fear of being forcibly removed grows daily. The deportations of those rendered stateless by the Dominican government has already created a humanitarian crisis in Anse-à-Pitres and Malpasse, a crisis that is increasing in size each day as camps of deported families spring up throughout the area.
In Anse-à-Pitres the situation is very serious; for more than two months, several thousand people have been living there in two large camps. People are living under pieces of cardboard and bed sheets that do nothing to stop the rain. In the middle of a desert, these families have been expelled by the Dominican government and abandoned by the Haitian government. The crisis between Haiti and the Dominican Republic is having a major impact on Haitian society at a time when Haiti has not yet recovered from the humanitarian crisis that followed the earthquake on January 12, 2010. The newly deported population is adding insult to injury considering that 60,000 people are still living in officially recognized camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) and several hundred thousand others remain abandoned in unofficial camps and in slums that have grown dramatically over the last five years.
Up until now, the Haitian government has not demonstrated any competence to deliver a real response to the crisis. From day one, the Haitian authorities have not counted the people entering the country, making it very difficult to get official information. No adequate recording of the number of people crossing the border creates several other problems as well. For those who had their citizenship revoked by the Dominican government, they are now stateless and there is no way to identify them. The Haitian government said that Haiti would not accept people who were stripped of their citizenship but many have already been deported to Haiti and there has yet to be any follow up on these cases.
There are also groups of citizens who have taken the initiative to help by offering emergency assistance to those who have been deported to Haiti during this urgent time, but this work has been complicated because they don’t have access to basic information such as how many vulnerable people are at the border. More importantly, there are concerns about how to prevent the new camps of displaced people from becoming long-term settlements that attract other vulnerable families seeking support. One clear example is a group called SOS Rapatriye created by a group of friends who began collecting necessities and food to help those who have been deported. This group has faced major challenges in their work because the government doesn’t want the deliver of assistance at the site to encourage the establishment of a large camp, despite the fact that where the families are now is in the middle of Anse-à-Pitres, more than five hours from Haiti’s capital. Anse-à-Pitre is already facing food shortages, massive unemployment and cannot provide any kind of health care services to those who are arriving daily. When SOS Rapatriye began to seek tents for the families, the Minister of Interior discouraged them from distributing tents under the premise that it would attract more people. The Ministry of the Interior has played a role in creating this problem by not registering people as they enter, making it possible for people unaffected by the deportations to come into the settlement to seek aid.
In Fond Parisien, the central point on the border for deportations, there are several dozen families that are living in the community school at Fon Baya. These families were the first beneficiaries of donations that SOS Rapatriye collected, including mattresses to sleep on where before people had been sleeping directly on the cement floor. Several elderly people and five pregnant women were the first to receive mattresses. Today the school has reopened and the families had to leave the building. They are now living in tents they received as a donation from a local church, however it is a very hot area and it isn’t possible to remain inside the tents during the day.
The deportations are continuing and we can expect more deportations in the coming days because as of September 16, the Haitian government has adopted a measure to stop the overland imports of more than twenty key products from the Dominican Republic. It hasn’t even been three days since the announcement of this measure, and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has already registered 480 people who crossed the border from the Dominican Republic and are in a new camp in Fond Janet.
The treatment of Haitians in the Dominican Republic has become worse since the period where people could enter into the legalization process and register has ended. Of the 288,000 people who registered for the process, 100,000 cards are already available for distribution and 85,000 have already taken their cards. More than 75,000 people didn’t qualify they didn’t meet the criteria, according to the Dominican Minister of the Interior.
At this moment, the Dominican Republic continues the deportations but slowly and quietly, so as to avoid attracting more media attention that could create problems for the tourism industry – a key sector that is at risk of suffering as a result of this crisis. The Dominican Republic is benefiting from the refugee crisis in Europe as it dominates the media, and deportations are continuing just as the tensions between Haiti and the Dominican Republic become more serious. Without any massive deportations, it will take the Dominican Republic more than a year to deport several hundred thousand stateless Dominicans along with Haitians who don’t have legal residence, guaranteeing the prolongation of this crisis.